December 12, 2017
Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Last French hostage freed by Al Qaeda's north African arm

"Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage, is free," Hollande told reporters in Paris. "France has no more hostages, in any part of the world." (AFP)

President Francois Hollande said that the last French citizen held hostage, a 50-year-old man seized in 2011 by Al Qaeda's north African arm, had now been freed.

Serge Lazarevic was held in the Sahara by AQIM for almost three years after being kidnapped in northern Mali.

"Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage, is free," Hollande told reporters in Paris. "France has no more hostages, in any part of the world."

Hollande's office said in a statement Lazarevic, described by authorities as an engineer, was in "relatively good health despite the very trying conditions of his long captivity".

Lazarevic had reached Niger's capital Niamey, where he met president Mahamadou Issoufou. TV footage showed him smiling and telling reporters that he had lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) but was doing fine.

"I would like to thank the people of Niger who have collaborated with France to get me freed," he said.

It was not clear if a ransom was paid but a Malian newspaper and two sources, requesting anonymity, told Reuters several Islamist-linked militants held in Mali were freed.

"There were in all five prisoners who were exchanged for the Frenchman," said one source in northern Mali.

Hollande will greet Lazarevic on Wednesday at 06h30 GMT at Villacoublay airport near Paris, the president's office said.

Alain Marsaud, a former anti-terrorism judge, now a lawmaker representing French overseas, had no doubt France paid a ransom in some form. "We managed to get prisoners from Malian or Nigerien prisons released. You have to choose.

"Either you adopt... (US President Barack) Obama's policy in which you don't negotiate and then you see your hostages assassinated, or you negotiate without admitting it."

A US and a South African citizen held by al Qaeda in Yemen were killed on Saturday in an attempted rescue by US special forces.

The sources and L'Independent, a Malian newspaper, said two Malians who were the main suspects behind the 2011 kidnapping, were among those released.

One of them escaped from a Bamako prison in June but was later recaptured.

Both Nigerien and Malian authorities were involved in the release, Niger's presidency said. However, none of the governments involved comment on the reported exchange.

Hollande said in September Paris neither paid ransoms nor exchanged hostages for prisoners. "That does not mean other countries don't," he said. "Some countries have done it to help us. I admit it."

Last month, Lazarevic was seen in a video posted by AQIM imploring Hollande to do everything to free him.

Philippe Verdon, another Frenchman kidnapped alongside Lazarevic, was killed by his captors in northern Mali last year.

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Tags:  World  France  Nigeria  Hostages  Al Qaeda  US  Hollande  

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