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Burkina Faso hostage questioned after arrival

May 15,2019
The Korean woman rescued from a month of captivity in Burkina Faso last week by French commandos returned home Tuesday and was immediately taken in for questioning by the Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The tourist in her 40s surnamed Jang, who had been traveling across West Africa before her kidnapping, returned via an Asiana Airlines flight from Paris to Incheon International Airport Tuesday afternoon.

She was taken by the NIS, the country’s top spy agency, upon her arrival at the airport. She was released by the NIS later on Tuesday.

This is in accordance with the Act on Anti-Terrorism for the Protection of Citizens and Public Security, said a Korean Foreign Ministry official Tuesday. Her questioning is aimed at determining the exact kidnapping situation and gathering any information that can also be used for the international community’s anti-terrorism efforts and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Her family has asked that Jang’s identity be kept private.

Jang had been held captive by a militant group with three other hostages - two men from France and an American woman. The four captives were rescued last Friday in an overnight raid by the French special forces near the border with Mali. Two French commandos died during the operation. The French soldiers had not been aware that the Korean and U.S. women were also taken hostage along with the two tourists from France.

Over the weekend following her rescue, Jang received treatment in a hospital in Paris. She was in need of psychological stability but otherwise in good health.

Jang had been on a world tour over the past 18 months. She arrived in Morocco in January and was touring northern and western African countries before the kidnapping. The areas she visited were mostly areas where the Korean government has issued varying levels of travel advisories for.

On April 12, Jang and the American woman in her 60s were snatched by armed assailants on a bus heading from Burkina Faso to neighboring Benin.

The JoongAng Ilbo on Monday reported that Jang and the U.S. citizen were on a backpacking tour of about six African countries, based on posts made on the Facebook account of the American woman. It is unclear when and how the two women first met. But the two women visited Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. The American woman, who is from Arizona, posted multiple pictures of her and Jang together, including a selfie in Morocco in front of buses, in transit in Senegal and with a man in a military uniform in Mali.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued level-three, or red, alerts on travel to countries like Mali and Mauritania. Level three out of the four-level travel advisory system warns people not to travel to the region or leave them.

Public criticism focused on whether the government would fund Jang’s flight home and her hospital fees with taxpayers’ money after it was revealed that she had traveled to dangerous regions in Africa under travel advisories. Korean officials said that Jang will be footing her own bills, which is government policy when an individual that faces a crisis overseas has the economic means to do so. The Korean Foreign Ministry on Monday raised the alert for the eastern area of Burkina Faso from a level-two alert, or yellow, to a level-three red alert. Only the northern region of Burkina Faso had previously been under the red alert. The ministry also issued a red alert for areas along the borders of Burkina Faso and Benin including Pendjari National Park, where the two French tourists were kidnapped on May 1.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]