The Malian government says a total of four hostages held by al-Qaeda-linked militants have been freed and are now aboard a flight to the capital.
In a statement released late Thursday, Mali’s government indicated that along with prominent Malian politician Soumaila Cisse and French aid worker Sophie Petronin, two Italian nationals — Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Ciacco — had also been released.
While relatives of the first two said they had been notified it was not previously known that the two Italians also had been freed.
The flight took off just before 7 p.m. local time from the northern town of Tessalit and was expected to arrive about 2½ hours later, presidential spokesperson Adam Thiam said.
The hostages’ release followed the freeing by Malian authorities of nearly 200 jihadist prisoners over the weekend, which had fueled speculation that a prisoner exchange was imminent.