• France edition
 
LATEST - French hostages
‘€20 million ransom paid to free French hostages’
Former French hostage Daniel Larribe (R) is welcomed by his family upon his arrival with three other hostages at the military airport of Villacoublay outside Paris. Photo: LCI/TF1 screengrab

‘€20 million ransom paid to free French hostages’

Published: 30 Oct 2013 11:31 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Oct 2013 11:31 GMT+01:00

LATEST: 

  • The released men landed in Paris at around12:45pm local time where they were due to be greeted by President François Hollande
  • The French president describes their release as a "moment of great joy"
  • Sources claimed on Wednesday that a ransom of over €20 million was paid to free the four hostages
  • French government angrily denies claims of ransom beingpaid
  • Families of the kidnapped men have expressed their joy at the news of their release

Did France pay for the release four French hostages who were held captive in Niger by Al-Qaeda militants for three years?

That is the question being asked in France today as the four men returned home to their families on Wednesday after three years in captivity. There was joyous scenes as the men were mobbed by loved ones as they stepped off the plane. 

“This is a moment of great joy,” French president François Hollande said from the airport runway after greeting the men.

“I want to salute their courage. Three years of waiting, and suffering. They’re not just men who struggled through these moments, but great French citizens who honoured France in their captivity,” he added.

The four men, who were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Niger in 2010, flew into the Villacoublay military airport near Paris as the French government was forced to deny that any money was handed over to the Islamist captors in order to bring to an end the hostages' ordeal.

Earlier French daily Le Monde, citing a source close to the operation to free the men, published claims on Wednesday that a ransom "of over €20 million" was indeed paid.

The source, who talked about an eight-day operation to free the men, said the money was paid out of three secret bank accounts.

Another source, close to the Nigerien negotiating team, quoted by AFP, said between €20 and €25 million was paid.

The money went to the hostage-takers and to intermediaries on the ground who played a key role in securing the release, the source added.

These claims, however, are contrary to statements made by the French government in the aftermath of the hostages' release.

"France does not pay ransoms. This is repeated every time.... There is no need to return to the subject," a source in the presidency told AFP on Wednesday.

The exact circumstances of the release were not immediately clear, but French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there had been "no assault" to free the hostages and that no ransom had been paid.

The Four Frenchmen kidnapped by Al-Qaeda militants in Niger took off from Niamey bound for home on Wednesday after more than three years in captivity.

The white French government plane left around 0600 GMT carrying the four former hostages heading for Paris. The four men are expected to land in Paris after midday local time, where they will be greeted by French President François Hollande.

Hollande was to greet the quartet on their arrival at an airport outside Paris after what he called "three years of suffering for the families who lived through a nightmare".

"I want to express my gratitude to Niger's president, who was able to obtain the release of our countrymen," Hollande added.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP the hostages had been freed in neighbouring Mali, and were in "very good shape".

"They have been hostages for three years and the nightmare is finally over," he said.

The four men appeared thin but otherwise in good health, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

In a brief remark to AFP at the airport, one of them, Thierry Dol, 32, said: "It was very difficult but it was the test of a lifetime."

Francoise Larribe, who was kidnapped along with her husband Daniel before she was freed in February 2011, said on learning of her husband's release:

"It's an emotional wave, a tsunami."
 
"I have never lost hope, even though there were moments of dejection, fear and anguish," she said.
 
Dol, Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Feret were kidnapped on September 16, 2010, from a uranium mining compound in Arlit, north-central Niger. They work for French nuclear giant Areva.
 
Speaking as he met the ex-hostages, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said his country had worked for their release, but provided no details.
 
"Since the kidnapping of the hostages three years ago, Niger has worked on obtaining their release. Now it's done," he said, congratulating the hostages for "regaining their freedom after months of difficult trials".
 
Legrand's mother, Pascale Robert, told BFMTV: "Now we're waiting for them to physically return, to see them, to touch them."
 
At least seven French hostages remain in captivity around the world, including two snatched in Mali, one in Nigeria and four in Syria.
 
AQIM grew out of a movement launched in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists who sought the overthrow of the Algiers government.
 
The organisation allied with Al-Qaeda in 2006 and has spun a network across tribal, clan, family and business lines that stretches across the vast Sahel region abutting the southern Sahara desert.
 
Here is some of the first video footage (from BFMTV) of the four men disembarking at Villacoublay airport, and their highly emotional reunion with loved ones.
 
 
Don't miss stories about France - join us on Facebook and Twitter

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French unemployment hits new record high
Photo: AFP

French unemployment hits new record high

Unemployment in France hit a new record in September, with official statistics published Friday showing 3.43 million people claimed jobless benefits. READ  

French claim success in Isis air raids
Photo: AFP/ECPAD/EMA/ARMEE DE L'AIR

French claim success in Isis air raids

France's Chief of the Defense Staff Pierre de Villiers has claimed that air strikes on Thursday and Friday by French, US and allied aircraft "hurt" Islamic State forces. READ  

French website exposes EU budget letter
French President Francois Hollande. Photo: AFP

French website exposes EU budget letter

A confidential letter sent to France by the EU Commission demanding clarifications on its 2015 budget, which will break EU spending rules, was unveiled Friday by a French news website. READ  

Le Pen: France needs to take control of borders
Front National president Marine Le Pen speaks to the press during a visit in the city of Calais, northern France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Le Pen: France needs to take control of borders

National Front leader Marine Le Pen visited the northern port city of Calais on Friday where tensions are high as authorities under increasing pressure to control the influx of illegal migrants trying to get to Britain. READ  

Burglar in the buff snared by French police
A burglar in the buff was snared red handed and bare-bottomed by French police this week. Photo: Shutterstock

Burglar in the buff snared by French police

French police were called out to a bizarre incident this week when they received calls from scared residents in villages in central France alerting them to the presence of a burglar who was targeting homes in the buff. READ  

France to bring in Ebola checks 'on all transport'
A passenger arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport is checked for Ebola. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

France to bring in Ebola checks 'on all transport'

French president François Hollande said on Friday that measures to counter the risk of Ebola reaching France will be increased with tests to be carried out on people arriving in France on “all forms of transport”, meaning boats as well as planes. READ  

French military chief: 'It's safe to say we hurt Isis'
France and its allies "hurt" Isis forces in Iraq, French military chief has said. Photo: AFP

French military chief: 'It's safe to say we hurt Isis'

The leader of France's armed forces said his country's military "hurt" Isis forces in a recent raid led by the international coalition battling the extremists in Iraq. READ  

What's on in France
What's on in France: 11 things to do in November
The annual cider festival in Le Sap Normandy, just one of the many things to do in France in November. Photo: JCMayzaud

What's on in France: 11 things to do in November

If you're short of ideas for what to do in France in November, we've gathered together a list of 11 events that are well worth checking out, especially if you're into art, wine, music or just can't wait to get in the Christmas spirit. READ  

Paris: Saudi robbed of €15k cash while dining
Relations between France and Saudi Arabia could soon be strained if Paris thieves are not stopped. Photo: Dominic Faget/AFP

Paris: Saudi robbed of €15k cash while dining

A man working for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris had a whopping €15,000 in cash stolen while dining out in the city on Tuesday afternoon. He’s just the latest Saudi national to be targeted by thieves in France. READ  

Budget row: EU asks France for more details
Hollande and his PM Manuel Valls will have to convince Brussels their 2015 budget is in order. Photo: AFP

Budget row: EU asks France for more details

French President Francois Hollande said his country had received an EU Commission letter asking for clarifications over its 2015 budget, which forecasts that France will miss the deficit targets laid by Brussels by a wide margin. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
International
'I love the UK, but I could die getting there': Struggles of Calais migrants
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
International
Why don't Calais migrants stay in France? The Local went to find out
National
What are the pros and cons of working as an au pair in France?
Society
Is France's generous welfare state about to get a little stingier?
Gallery
Extraordinary images of ordinary life in the poor Paris suburbs
Gallery
10 things expats love and loathe about life in France
National
So why don't many women in France breastfeed?
National
'Stop bashing La Belle France' - French PM tells UK press
International
UK warns Brits of 'high threat' from terrorism' in France
National
VIDEO: 'The Kama Sutra is not a dirty little text'
National
What Rome could teach Paris and vice versa
Gallery
What do foreign countries warn their citizens about when visiting France?
Gallery
IN IMAGES: Eiffel Tower opens new glass floor above Paris
Society
Is it really better to grow old in the UK and the US rather than France?
Gallery
It's that time if the year again: French sportsmen reveal (almost) all
Gallery
So what do the French find really weird about Anglos?
Travel
Paris museums to open seven days a week but unions are not happy
Culture
Caption contest: What happened when Jay Z met Sark O?
International
This explains why the French never seem to get a sense of déjà vu?
National
VIDEO: Here's a view from the Eiffel Tower you haven't seen before
Travel
Do Paris's iconic rooftops deserve Unesco World Heritage status?
Opinion
'France cannot reform, the pilots' strike showed us this'
National
'We just don’t work hard enough in France.' Is that true?
International
France has moved to beef up security in various public places
National
Hiking naked in France does not come risk-free
Culture
10 French customs that confuse Anglos
National
IN PICTURES: A look inside France's 'most notorious' prison
International
Isis urges killing of 'spiteful, dirty' French
National
Paris installs new device to stop 'love lock' craze
National
Paris cabby dies in vicious high-heel attack
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se