PARIS (AP) — The son of a former al-Qaida hostage struck back Thursday 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 Petronin’s return to Mali has sparked criticism and made headlines in her native France, with the government spokesman this week accusing her of “irresponsibility toward her own security and also the security of our troops” in West African country.
But in an interview with French broadcaster BFM-TV, her son Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin said the 76-year-old is living extremely discreetly in an apartment in the Malian capital, Bamako. He said she has ventured out just once in six months, to shop and under escort, and has someone with her who watches over her security.
“She is not in the desert,” he said. “She is not taking risks.”
“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,” he added.
Petronin 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 aren’t saying why.
Her son said his mother was deeply unhappy back in Europe and wants to live out her years in the country where she worked before her 2016 abduction. 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 that he will travel to Bamako next week to check on her security arrangements and meet French Embassy officials. He also hopes to meet with 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.”