Mali opposition leader dies of Covid-19 months after release by jihadists

Soumaila Cissé pictured greeting a relative at his home in Bamako on October 9, 2020, a day after he was released by jihadist militants. © Michèle Cattani, AFP

Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cissé has died of coronavirus aged 71, his family and party said Friday, just two months after he was released by jihadist militants in a prisoner swap.


Cissé "died in France, where he had been taken for Covid-19 care", a member of his family told AFP.

"I can confirm this terrible news. He's dead," a leader of Cissé's URD party told AFP, saying the politician's wife had let him know.

Cissé was snatched by jihadists on March 25 while campaigning in the northeastern Timbuktu region ahead of long-delayed legislative elections.

He was freed six months later in October alongside Frenchwoman Sophie Pétronin and two Italians.

The hostages were exchanged for some 200 prisoners whose release was demanded by jihadist groups.

"I was not subjected to any violence, either physical or verbal," Cissé said following his release.

A former leader of the opposition in parliament, Cissé was runner-up in three presidential elections.

In 2013 and 2018, he was defeated by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was ousted in an August 18 military coup.

Following the 2018 vote, Cissé accused officials of rigging the election, claiming he had won a runoff with 51.75 percent of the vote to Keita's 48.25 percent.

An engineer and IT specialist by training, Cissé studied in Senegal and France, where he worked for major companies including IBM before returning to Mali.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)