A remote, rural Burkina Faso community has turned to Facebook to seek the release of an elderly Australian doctor kidnapped with his wife at the weekend by Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.
The dusty town of Djibo in the far north of Burkina Faso not far from Mali opened a Facebook page following the capture of “the doctor of the poor”, Dr Ken Elliot, and his wife Jocelyn, on the night of January 15-16.
The elderly couple from Perth have spent some 40 years running a 120-bed clinic, the only medical facility in the region.
A Facebook message posted on Tuesday by the people of Djibo said “the patients of the hospital of Dr Elliot, distressed at the kidnapping and in view of the duration of his detention, envisages public demonstrations.”
“We are calling upon all of the citizens and governments of the international community to undertake actions necessary for the liberation of Dr #Elliot,” it added.
The message came a day after hundreds of students in khaki uniforms with hand-printed cardboard placards reading “Free Elliot” turned out in the town with their teachers.
“Our small voices are crying our pain along with the dozens of sick people I’ve seen leaving the clinic these last three days,” said a post by Adama Dicko.
“I’m sure you’ve already looked after a relative of the people who kidnapped you,” he added.
The page titled “Djibo backs Dr Ken Elliot”, featuring photos of the white-haired and bearded doctor at work in the clinic, already has 4,200 followers, with messages largely from the medic’s Burkinabe friends but also from his family and other Australians.
A former Australian hostage who spent 15 months in Somalia, Nigel Brennan, had a message of hope. “Something like 96 per cent of people come out alive,” he said. “Very few people die in captivity.”
The whereabouts of the West Australian couple in their 80s who moved to Burkina Faso in 1972 remain unknown.
The Burkina government has said the pair were kidnapped in Baraboule, near the west African country’s borders with Niger and Mali.
News of the kidnapping came at the weekend as a jihadist assault on an upmarket hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou left at least 30 people dead, including many foreigners.
A spokesman for Malian militant group Ansar Dine, Hamadou Ag Khallini, told AFP in a brief phone message that the couple were being held by jihadists from the Al-Qaeda-linked “Emirate of the Sahara”.
He said they were alive and more details would be released soon. The Emirate of the Sahara is a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operating in northern Mali, according to experts.
The group has claimed the attack on the Ouagadougou hotel.
Meanwhile, three of the gunmen who carried out the attack are still on the run, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said yesterday.
“Six individuals opened fire on the Cappuccino cafe before taking refuge in the Splendid hotel” in Friday’s attack in the capital Ouagadougou, Mr Valls told parliament.
“Three were killed and three are still being sought,” he said.
ASSAILANTS MADE PUBLIC
Burkina Faso had not made public the number of assailants in the attack that left 30 people dead, many of them foreigners.
Authorities in Ouagadougou said the bodies of three assailants had been identified, but several witnesses have said they saw more than three attackers.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on Monday named three gunmen involved in the assault.
It published photos of the three young gunmen dressed in military fatigues and wielding weapons, identifying them as Battar al-Ansari, Abu Muhammad al-Buqali al-Ansari and Ahmed al-Fulani al-Ansari.