Humboldt County aid worker freed after 6 years as hostage in Niger

A Humboldt County aid worker held hostage in Niger for more than six years has been released, the White House announced Monday

Jeffrey Woodke was conducting aid work in the northern city of Alabak, Niger in Oct., 2016 when he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists. Woodke was a longtime aid worker in the region working on behalf of Christian missionary groups for more than 30 years. 

"First, I have to thank God, and after God, the Nigerien government, the American government and France," Woodke said in a press conference in Niger. 

A French journalist who'd also been taken captive was released at the same time.

Woodke is a graduate of Humboldt State University – now Cal Poly Humboldt – in Arcata, Calif., where his wife and children live in the nearby town of McKinleyville. Woodke’s family declined to comment at this time as they continue the final work of bringing him back to the US. Woodke's wife, Els, has not heard from Jeff, but was told he is in good condition, according to the "Bring Jeffery Woodke Home" Facebook page.

"[Els] has expressed her profound thanks to the many people in governments and others around the world who have worked so hard to see this result," the post states.

"I am grateful that he will soon be reunited with his wife, Els, and their family after spending more than six years held hostage by terrorists," President Biden said in a statement. "The United States extends our deep appreciation to the Nigerien government, which was a critical partner in helping to secure his release."

Woodke’s work involved helping to establish clean water resources, health and literacy trainings and natural resource management. In 2009, Woodke received an award from the United Nations for his work in disaster risk reduction, according to a website dedicated to securing his return. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Niger just last week and thanked the Nigerien government for their help in securing Woodke’s release, as well as the release of French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2021. US officials say no ransom was paid for Woodke’s release.

"As you know, I have no higher priority or focus than bringing home any unjustly detained American, wherever that is in the world," Blinken said. "We won't rest until they're all home and, like Jeffrey, reunited with their families."