Niger: Freed French hostages head home

2013-10-30 12:11
Former French hostages Thierry Dol (L) and Pierre Legrand (C) board at Niamey's airport on their way to France. (Hama Boureima, AFP)

Former French hostages Thierry Dol (L) and Pierre Legrand (C) board at Niamey's airport on their way to France. (Hama Boureima, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Niamey - Four Frenchmen kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Niger were on their way back to France on Wednesday after more than three years in a "nightmare" of captivity.

The four men, who were kidnapped by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) in northern Niger in 2010, took off around 06:00 GMT in a white government plane bound for Paris where they were expected to be met by President Francois Hollande.

Hollande was to greet the quartet on their arrival at an airport outside Paris after what he called "three years of suffering for the families who lived through a nightmare".

"I want to express my gratitude to Niger's president, who was able to obtain the release of our countrymen," Hollande added.

The exact circumstances of their release were not immediately clear. But the French government said there had been no military assault to free them and that no ransom had been paid, while Hollande credited decisive help from his Niger counterpart.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP the hostages had been freed in neighbouring Mali, and were in "very good shape".

"They have been hostages for three years and the nightmare is finally over," he said.

The four men appeared thin but otherwise in good health, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

In a brief remark to AFP at the airport, one of them, Thierry Dol, 32, said: "It was very difficult but it was the test of a lifetime."

Francoise Larribe, who was kidnapped along with her husband Daniel before she was freed in February 2011, said on learning of her husband's release: "It's an emotional wave, a tsunami."

"I have never lost hope, even though there were moments of dejection, fear and anguish," she said.

Dol, Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Feret were kidnapped on September 16, 2010, from a uranium mining compound in Arlit, north-central Niger. They work for French nuclear giant Areva.

Speaking as he met the ex-hostages, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said his country had worked for their release, but provided no details.

"Since the kidnapping of the hostages three years ago, Niger has worked on obtaining their release. Now it's done," he said, congratulating the hostages for "regaining their freedom after months of difficult trials".

Legrand's mother, Pascale Robert, told BFMTV: "Now we're waiting for them to physically return, to see them, to touch them."

'Negotiations in Mali desert'

The news of their release came days after regional security sources in the town of Gao in Mali reported the presence of envoys in the Sahel "to speed up negotiations towards freeing the French hostages".

France had officially denied sending envoys.

According to a high-ranking Nigerien source, the four were taken to Niamey by a French plane from Anefis, in northeastern Mali near the Algerian border.

That was the site of final negotiations which included Mohamed Akotey, a former Tuareg rebel who is a senior executive with an Areva subsidiary in Niger.

The hostages were apparently held in different locations to prevent them being freed in any French assault, and were brought together just days before the release.

A Malian security source also said that "the final negotiations took place in the Malian desert", adding that "eminent Malians in the north provided timely assistance".

Mali's government welcomed the release but made no mention of any negotiations or whether it took part.

Three other people who were kidnapped at the time - Francoise Larribe, a Togolese and a Madagascan - were freed in February 2011.

Aqim had demanded at least $124m for the release of the remaining hostages.

At least seven French hostages remain in captivity around the world, including two snatched in Mali, one in Nigeria and four in Syria.

Aqimgrew out of a movement launched in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists who sought the overthrow of the Algiers government.

The organisation allied with al-Qaeda in 2006 and has spun a network across tribal, clan, family and business lines that stretches across the vast Sahel region abutting the southern Sahara desert.

Read more on:    aqim  |  al-qaeda  |  france  |  niger  |  west africa  |  abductions

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.