The son of a former al-Qaida hostage has struck back at French government claims that she has put herself and others in danger by slipping back into Mali where she was held for four years.
Sophie Pétronin’s return to Mali has sparked criticism and made headlines in her native France, with a government spokesperson this week accusing her of “irresponsibility toward her own security and also the security of our troops” in the west African country.
But in an interview with the French broadcaster BFM-TV, her son Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin said the 76-year-old was living extremely discreetly in an apartment in the Malian capital, Bamako. He said she had ventured out just once in six months, to shop under escort, and she had someone with her who watched over her security.
“She is not in the desert. She is not taking risks,” he said. “To make believe that she has gone back to her captors in northern Mali, that she is putting our soldiers’ lives in danger, is not very responsible.”
Pétronin apparently crossed a land border back into Mali without a visa in March, about five months after she was freed and flown back to France. Malian authorities say they are now looking for her and want to question her, but are not saying why.
Her son said his mother was deeply unhappy back in Europe and wanted to live out her years in the country where she worked before her abduction in 2016. She also wanted to be reunited with her adopted daughter in Mali, he said.
“She spent 20 years there. Part of her life is there,” said the son, who was speaking from Switzerland. “She is an old lady in the autumn of her life and she just wants to be in the place where she feels most comfortable.”
He said he would travel to Bamako next week to check on her security arrangements and meet French embassy officials. He also hopes to meet Malian authorities.
“I hope the Malians will offer her a little place in their community,” he said. “She just wants everyone to forget about her.”