PARIS // Four Frenchmen taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Niger have been released after three years of captivity, President Francois Hollande announced on Tuesday.
The four were spirited from their dormitories in the French-operated mining town of Arlit, where they worked for the French nuclear company Areva, in September 2010 by Al Qaeda’s north African wing, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Mr Hollande announced their release during a trip to Slovakia, and fully credited Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou for the breakthrough.
He did not give details of exactly how or when they were freed, but said that foreign minister Laurent Fabius and defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian were heading to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to bring the men home.
A grandfather of one of the freed hostages told French television that they were all in good health.
France chased the Al Qaeda affiliate, which held a grip on the north of neighbouring Mali, killing or scattering them across the Sahel region. Mr Hollande said in his announcement that he had been determined to free hostages but the effort was interrupted by the French-led invasion. Those efforts were “immediately taken up” once the invasion ended.
Seven French hostages are still held: two in the Sahel region, where Mali and Niger are located; one in Nigeria; and four in Syria.
* Associated Press