Sjaak Rijke
Sjaak Rijke, 54, has been held by Al Qaeda militants for alost four yearsFrench defence ministry

A Dutch hostage held captive by al-Qaeda in Mali for four years has been rescued by French special forces.

Sjaak Rijke in a daring dawn raid on an Islamist camp in the far north of the country, where France has been fighting Al-Qaeda for the last two years.

Rijke, who was kidnapped at gunpoint from a hotel in Timbuktu in 2011, had been held with two other hostages – a Swede and a South African – but the French defence ministry did not reveal any details of their fates.

It did reveal that a number of terrorists were captured during the raid, which took place in the lawless far north of the country.

Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, said that Rijke was in the care of Dutch embassy staff in Mali and was "doing well under the circumstances", the Daily Telegraph reported.

"This is fantastic news for Sjaak and his family," Koenders said. "I'm happy and relieved that this terrible period of uncertainty and sadness has been brought to an end."

In 2014, another French hostage Serge Lazarevic was released by al-Qaeda in a prisoner exchange which saw four Islamist militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb released.

He was the last of 14 French hostages held by terrorist groups in Mali.

In 2013, a 53-year-old French geologist, Philippe Verdon, was executed by al-Qaeda after being held for two years.

The French government has been criticised by some of its western allies over allegations it often paid millions in ransom to Islamist groups to secure the release of its captive citizens.

Paris denies the allegations although, Hollande has acknowledged that other countries have sometimes paid hostage-takers, "to help us".