October 30, 2013 9:25:18 pm
Four Frenchmen taken hostage by al-Qaeda extremists in Niger have been released after three years of captivity and a French-led military intervention in the region that weakened the Islamic radicals.
French President Francois Hollande announced the release yesterday and credited Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou,who later appeared on television with the hostages. The men,who worked for the Areva nuclear company when taken,had long beards and some wore turbans and brown robes. They did not speak.
Niger Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Bazoum said the hostages Pierre Legrand,Thierry Dol,Marc Feret and Daniel Larribe were freed in neighbouring Mali and taken to Niamey,Niger’s capital.
Officials gave few details on the release,but the French defence minister said there was no assault and that France did not pay a ransom. “There was an initiative taken by the network” of the Niger president “which allowed the liberation without a clash,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told France’s TF 1 television.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Le Drian travelled to Niamey to bring the four Frenchmen home. Speaking from there on French TV,Fabius said the freed captives are “in good shape” now that “the nightmare is over.” He added that the group would reach home by today morning.
The four freed Frenchmen were captured in September 2010 by the North African wing of al-Qaida and spirited from their dormitories in the town of Arlit,Niger,where Areva,a French state-run nuclear company,operates a uranium mine.
Officials had long suspected the hostages were being held in northern Mali,a harsh desert area where there is no tree cover and the blazing midday heat can soar to 40 degrees Celsius. Previous hostages have recounted being bitten by scorpions.
The question of whether ransom was paid to procure their release immediately rose to the fore.
Hollande had made clear his government would not pay ransoms to free French captives. That sparked an outcry from families of French captives in West Africa,where hostage-taking has been a lucrative business for radicals. Fear was redoubled when in January France invaded Mali as part of an anti-terror offensive.
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