Four French hostages kidnapped in Niger in
2010 have been released, France’s President
Hollande has announced.
The men boarded a French government plane on
Wednesday from Niger’s capital Niamey. They are
expected to be greeted by Mr Hollande in Paris.
The French defence minister said the four men were
freed without a military assault or a ransom being
paid.
They were seized on 16 September 2010 in raids
targeting two French firms operating a uranium mine
near Arlit.
The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group
said it was responsible.
‘Gratitude’
Mr Hollande made the announcement during a visit
to Slovakia on Tuesday.
Breaking from the script of the
speech he was giving, he said: “I
have some good news. I just
learned from Niger’s president that
our four hostages in the Sahel, the
Arlit hostages, have been
released.”
“I want to express all my gratitude
to the president of Niger who
obtained the release of our
compatriots,” he added, without
providing further details.
No further details of the release
were given, but it is believed that
Niger’s top negotiator Mohamed
Akotey, a former Tuareg rebel,
obtained the release over the last
few days.
Mr Akotey, who works with the
French mining company Areva, is a
respected figure in Niger.
The four men were identified as
Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre
Legrand and Marc Feret.
Mr Dol told the French news agency
AFP that his time in captivity “was
very difficult but it was the test of a
lifetime.”
“I’m happy, excited,” Mr Legrand’s
aunt, Brigitte Laur, told AFP. “We
waited for so long. After three years
it’s hard to believe.”
They were all employees at the uranium mine run by
the French nuclear company Areva.
“We can’t say that they’re in great health but their
health is fine,” said a source close President
Hollande, quoted by AFP.
Since their abduction there had been sporadic signs
that they were alive, and a vocal campaign in their
support was led by family members in France, the
BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris reports.
France’s military intervention in
neighbouring Mali earlier this year
was a worrying time because of
fears the hostages could be killed
in reprisal, our correspondent adds.
During the military campaign,
French troops forced Islamists out
of northern Mali, killing or
scattering them across the vast
Sahel region.
Security has been stepped up at Areva’s Arlit
operation following an attack in May in which one
person was killed and 14 injured.
Islamist militants claimed responsibility for the
attack.
Four French hostages freed in Niger
– President Hollande
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The freed hostages were flown into Niger’s capital,
Niamey, where they were greeted by the French
foreign and defence ministers
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