Kidnapped Aussie doctor Ken Elliott has appeared in a proof of life video released by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, al-Qa??ida??s branch in the African Sahara. Picture: AP 

Perth doctor Kenneth Elliott released seven years after being kidnapped in West Africa


An elderly Perth doctor who had been held captive in West Africa after being kidnapped in Burkina Faso has been released more than seven years later.

Kenneth Elliott, now aged 88, was abducted with his wife Jocelyn in January 2016 close to the Niger border by a group believed to have links to Al Qaeda.

Jocelyn Elliott was released after about three weeks.

Dr Elliot is understood to be well and flew into Perth on Thursday night after being released earlier this week.

No ransom was paid by the Australian government or by Dr Elliot's family.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed Dr Elliott had been released "safe and well" and had been "reunited with his wife Jocelyn and their children".

"I am very pleased to advise that Dr Ken Elliott who has been held hostage in western Africa for some seven years has been reunited in Australia with his family," she said.

"The Australian government has been working tirelessly over that time to secure his release and I want to publicly thank all of the government officials who have worked to ensure Dr Elliott's release."

"I'm sure Australians wish Dr Elliott and his family well."

In a statement, she added: "We acknowledge the strength and resilience Dr Elliott and members of his family have shown through the most difficult of circumstances."

Ken and Jocelyn Elliott are originally from Perth but since 1972 they ran a medical clinic, where Dr Elliott worked as a surgeon, in the town of Djibo, near the borders with Niger and Mali.

The family have requested privacy, but issued a statement via the Foreign Minister's office. 

"We wish to express our thanks to God and all who have continued to pray for us," they said.

"We express our relief that Dr Elliott is free and thank the Australian government and all who have been involved over time to secure his release. We also continue to pray for those still held and wish them freedom and safe return to their loved ones.

"At 88 years of age, and after many years away from home, Dr Elliott now needs time and privacy to rest and rebuild strength. We thank you for your understanding and sympathy."

Couple 'dedicated their lives' to patients

Following news of the couple's abduction, a family spokesperson said they had dedicated their lives to helping injured and sick people in the West African nation.

Before moving to Burkina Faso, Dr Elliott worked at Fremantle Hospital and later for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Kalgoorlie.

Prior to moving to Burkina Faso, Dr Elliott re-opened a closed hospital in Benin in 1967, working there for four years. 

In his 50th anniversary graduation booklet, Dr Elliott had described Burkina Faso as one of the poorest countries in the world, and their Djibo medical centre could accommodate around 140 patients many of whom had not slept on a mattress before.

"I regularly operate five to six hours a day for six days of the week. The needs are unimaginable and we tackle some horrific cases, but ... the results are mostly pleasing," he wrote.

Back in 2016, after Jocelyn Elliott's release, the family also called for the release of Dr Elliott, saying he had "served the community of Djibo and the Sahel for more than half his lifetime".

At the time, the Malian militant group Ansar Dine had said the couple were taken by jihadists from the "Emirate of the Sahara", which was said by experts to be a branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Their abduction coincided with a jihadist attack in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, which left at least 29 people dead.

The couple were snatched in Baraboule, near Burkina Faso's borders with both Niger and Mali, the Burkina Faso government said at the time.

News of the initial kidnapping spurred an outpouring of support for the couple from the people of Djibo, with hundreds of students holding placards reading "Free Elliott" on the streets.

Friends delighted by news of release

Dr Elliott's friend Bruce Connor said he was "over the moon" to hear of his friend's release on Friday morning.

"We'd been praying and hoping for this good news for the last seven years, and it is just the best news possible," he said.

Dr Connor, who graduated medical school with Dr Elliott in 1963, said he immediately shared the news with their medical school friends, who had been waiting for the moment for a long time.

"It was something that we hoped would happen some day soon because Ken is now 88, he's been out there as a captive, and you don't know what is going to happen health-wise for him," he said.

"So we're delighted he's able to come back and join his family."

Dr Connor said Dr Elliott's friends the world over would be thankful for authorities' efforts to secure his release.

"There's people all over Australia, all over the world, [who have been] praying and hoping for Ken's release ever since his capture, and they will be rejoicing today [on Friday] and thanking the Australian authorities, particularly our Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and all the government officials who have been active in achieving this great outcome," he said.