An American Nun Held Hostage in West Africa Since April Has Been Rescued

mutinous soldier fires into the air at the Bobo interchange, near the Lamizana camp in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou
A mutinous soldier fires into the air at the Bobo interchange, near the Lamizana camp in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou Sunday Jan. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Sophie Garcia)

An American nun held hostage in the West African country of Burkina Faso since April has been freed, according to a statement from her order, and U.S. military leaders are hinting they may be behind the rescue operation.

Suellen Tennyson, an 83-year-old nun from Louisiana, was captured by "armed gunmen" on April 4 in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, according to an FBI statement.

Tennyson, a sister with the Marianites of Holy Cross, has been freed from captivity, according to a Facebook post by the religious order.

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"Yes, it is true! Sr. Suellen has been recovered!" the Marianites of Holy Cross posted Wednesday on Facebook. "She is now safe and in US custody. We (Srs. Ann & Renée) continue to work with the FBI to facilitate her re-entry process."

Theophile Nare, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kaya in Burkina Faso, told Reuters on Wednesday that Suellen had been rescued, but there were no additional details.

"Sister Suellen is currently in a safe place and in good health," Nare said in a statement. "At the moment we do not have information on the conditions of her release."

During a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley mentioned a recent rescue operation, without providing specifics.

While lauding SOCOM's accomplishments this year, Milley said, "And most recently, in the last 48 hours, they recovered another hostage."

A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, told that a rescue mission to recover an American citizen held captive in West Africa occurred on the same day Milley was referring to, but did not identify Tennyson as the hostage.

"On the afternoon of August 29, U.S. Africa Command personnel facilitated the safe turnover of an American citizen who had been held hostage by terrorists in a remote area of West Africa," Lt. Cmdr. Timothy S. Pietrack, a spokesman for AFRICOM, told "U.S. Africa Command would like to thank all of our African and international partners who provided excellent cooperation over the months leading up to this recovery, in particular, the government of Niger, who were critical to this effort."

The State Department confirmed the release of a U.S. citizen who had been held in West Africa but did not identify the individual by name.

"The United States is pleased to confirm the release of a U.S. citizen in Niger who had been held hostage in West Africa, and to share that this individual will soon be reunited with loved ones," a State Department spokesperson said. "We want the American people to know that their safety and security is our highest priority, and the Biden Administration will continue to work aggressively -- using a wide range of tools -- until all Americans being unjustly held against their will are brought home."

The Pentagon and SOCOM deferred comment to other agencies. The Joint Chiefs did not return a request for comment.

Burkina Faso, a West African country bordered by Mali and Niger, has been under the control of a military junta since the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration waged a successful coup d'état in January.

The Marianites of Holy Cross requested respect for Tennyson's privacy after her captivity.

"We are so very grateful for ALL the prayers and support these past 5 months," the order posted on Facebook. "We now ask you to pray for Suellen's complete renewal of body, mind and spirit."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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