French special forces have freed Dutch hostage Sjaak Rijke, who was abducted by an al-Qaeda faction in Mali in 2011, the French defence ministry has said.

In a statement released on Monday, the ministry said that Rijke was taken to Tessalit after being rescued early in the morning.

Rijke was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) along with Johan Gustafsson from Sweden and Stephen Malcolm, who is a British-South African dual national.

Gustafsson's and Malcolm's whereabouts are still unknown.

AQIM has released several videos of the hostages,  flanked by masked, black-clad gunmen, urging their respective governments to secure their release.

France 3,000-strong force battling armed groups in the Sahel region is headquartered in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, about 50km from the Nigerian border.

The troops, codenamed "Barkhane", operates in five countries along the southern rim of the Sahara - Burkina Faso, Malim, Chad, Niger and Mauritania.

Source: Al Jazeera