Wife speaks out about ransom demands for American humanitarian worker held hostage in Africa

The wife of a U.S. humanitarian worker who has been held hostage in Africa for the past five years spoke out Wednesday about ransom demands the kidnappers have made. 

Els Woodke gave a speech directed at Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of the al Qaeda affiliate group called JNIM that is holding her husband hostage, begging for his release, The Associated Press reported.

“You are the only one with the power to make that happen. Releasing Jeff will require compassion and mercy, but these are the characteristics of a strong and courageous leader,” she said.

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Jeff Woodke was kidnapped from his home in Niger in 2016 and is now believed to be in the Sahel region, Els Woodke said.

She believes, based on government information provided to her, that her husband is still alive and that she would have heard by now if he was killed, according to the AP. She received information as recently as this summer saying he is still alive. 

“If he would have died, I am sure that would not have gone unnoticed. That news would have been passed on. That is for me an even stronger indication” that he is still being held captive, she said. 

The terrorist group has made multimillion-dollar ransom demands, but Els Woodke said the U.S. has not helped her efforts to pay the money to get her husband back. 

“I have also had so many restrictions imposed by the U.S. government that any meaningful attempt to raise a ransom is effectively prohibited,” she said.

A U.S. official said in a statement to The Hill the U.S. does not give in to ransom demands but still provides assistance to families to speak with the kidnappers.

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"We understand the families of hostages ​may want to explore every option to secure their loved one’s safe recovery. It is United States' policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom or other concessions," the U.S. official said. "However, this policy does not preclude the United States government from helping hostage families with private efforts to communicate with hostage-takers."

Els Woodke said some of the restrictions on what she can say have been because of “other governments are involved.”

The U.S. official said further specifics could not be given since it is an ongoing investigation.