Freed French hostages on their way home
The (Hamburg, Germany) Deutsche Presse-Agentur
PARIS — Four French citizens held hostage by al-Qaeda rebels in West Africa for more than three years were on their way home on Wednesday, a day after they were liberated with the help of the government of Niger.
Pierre Legrand, Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe and Marc Feret were abducted in September 2010 in northern Niger by the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant group.
At the time, they were working in a uranium mine run by French energy company Areva in Arlit, about 1,000 kilometres north-east of the capital, Niamey.
Niger borders Mali, where French troops have been fighting AQIM and other militant Islamist factions since the start of the year. The hostages are believed to have spent part of their captivity in northern Mali.
Their liberation was announced on Tuesday evening by French President Francois Hollande. He did not give details of the circumstances, but thanked President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger for "obtaining the release of our compatriots."
French officials say there was no raid to free them. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius flew to Niamey to meet them. Fabius denied that any ransom had been paid by the government.
The four men were scheduled to land at Villacoublay military airport, west of Paris, before noon.
Hollande will be on hand to meet them on arrival, along with their families.
Francoise Larribe, the wife of Daniel Larribe, said she had been hit by a "tsunami" of emotion on hearing of her husband's release.
She was part of the original group of seven hostages snatched in Arlit. She was released in February 2011 as her health began to decline, along with two African captives, one from Togo and the other from Madagascar.
Two French men abducted in Mali in 2011 are still being held. Another of the Mali hostages, Philippe Verdon, was killed earlier this year by his captors.
Another man was abducted by an Islamist faction in Nigeria in December 2012.