(Reuters) - A military helicopter arced through the dusty yellow haze and dropped onto the sand a few kilometers from Timbuktu on April 24, settling inside a ring of Islamists armed with AK47s and anti-aircraft guns.
A general from neighboring Burkina Faso and a Swiss government aid worker emerged and joined an Islamist leader sheltering in a tent; they exchanged pleasantries over roast goat and cans of fruit juice. About an hour later, after the Swiss official and Islamist leader had spent five minutes alone in the helicopter, a pick-up truck arrived carrying Beatrice Stockly, a Swiss missionary who had been kidnapped nine days earlier.
"I don't know what they talked about, but soon after the Islamist left the helicopter, the hostage arrived," said a witness who was on the helicopter that whisked Stockly, who arrived wearing a veil, to freedom.
"The first thing that she did was remove the veil and eat a bar of Swiss chocolate."