• France's news in English
 
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

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
Alps Plane Crash
Co-pilot 'hid sick leave note' for day of crash
Details about the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz began emerging on Friday, including the fact he had been signed off sick for the day of the crash.

Co-pilot 'hid sick leave note' for day of crash

German prosecutors revealed on Friday that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who is believed to have deliberately crashed the Germanwings plane in the Alps, had a sick leave note from his doctor for the day of the crash, but hid his illness from his employers. READ  

IN PICTURES
Harrowing search at Alps plane crash site goes on
The search continues in the French Alps. Photo: French Interior Ministry/Twitter

Harrowing search at Alps plane crash site goes on

UPDATED: French authorities are yet to find any intact bodies as they continue the painstaking search for victim body parts among the wreckage of the Germanwings plane that crashed in the Alps. Investigators are also hunting for the second black box. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Brother of Alps crash victim: 'I am in a rage'
Claude Driessens, who lost his brother Christian in the plane crash. Photo: BFMTV

Brother of Alps crash victim: 'I am in a rage'

Friends and family members of the victims of the Germanwings plane crash have been left horrified and angry after the revelations that the co-pilot deliberately downed the plane and that he had been signed off sick for the day of the crash. The Local speaks to one man who lost his brother. READ  

What's on in France: Ten things to do in April
Runners at the annual Paris marathon. Photo: AFP

What's on in France: Ten things to do in April

Spring has finally arrived, and it promises a series of fun activities from the Paris marathons to epic Easter egg hunts. Here are ten events in April definitely worth checking out. READ  

Consumer confidence in France hits five-year high
Consumer spending is on the rise in France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Consumer confidence in France hits five-year high

French consumer confidence has hit a five-year high, the Insee statistics agency said on Friday, signalling that households feel more optimistic about the country's growth. READ  

Paris: Iron Lady to dim lights for Earth Hour
The Eiffel Tower will momentarily lose its sparkle to mark Earth Hour. Eiffel Tower photo: Shutterstock

Paris: Iron Lady to dim lights for Earth Hour

It may be known as the City of Light but on Saturday evening even Paris and its most famous monument the Eiffel Tower will go dark to mark Earth Hour. Parisians will then have to dance for the Iron Lady to be restored to its glittering glory. READ  

Islamophobia in France
Pregnant Muslim woman attacked in France
Muslim women protest about France's decision to ban the veil. Photo: AFP

Pregnant Muslim woman attacked in France

A headscarf-wearing Muslim woman in her final month of pregnancy was violently assaulted in southern France this week, in what has been labelled an Islamophobic attack. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
IN PICTURES: Grieving relatives visit crash site
Rescuers hold American, Spanish, German and British flags infront of the relatives of the victims of the plane crash on Thursday. Photo: AFP

IN PICTURES: Grieving relatives visit crash site

Dozens of grieving family members have gathered in the small village in the French Alps near to where the Germanwings plane crashed into the mountainside killing all 150 people on board. A remembrance ceremony was held on Thursday. READ  

Marion Cotillard to take Joan of Arc to New York
French actress Marion Cotillard performs in Joan of Arc. Photo: AFP

Marion Cotillard to take Joan of Arc to New York

French actress Marion Cotillard will play Joan of Arc with the New York Philharmonic in a production of Arthur Honegger's oratorio, the orchestra announced on Thursday. READ  

Alps Plane Crash
Co-pilot suffered bout of 'serious depression'
Andreas Lubitz pictured near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo: Twitter

Co-pilot suffered bout of 'serious depression'

The Germanwings co-pilot said to have deliberately crashed his Airbus with 149 others aboard into the French Alps suffered a bout of serious depression six years ago, German daily Bild reported on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in April
National
Images released of the harrowing search at Alps plane crash site
IN PICTURES: Grieving relatives visit plane crash site in Alps
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
Co-pilot suspected of crashing plane
National
Paris: France mulls lifting ban on casinos
Damaged black box could hold key to Alps plane crash probe
Does low cost mean low safety? Questions after Germanwings crash
Gallery
IN PICTURES: A timeline of the Alps plane crash
National
So what might have caused the plane crash in the French Alps?
National
Videos emerge of Alps crash site wreckage
National
What we know so far about the plane crash in the French Alps
National
Where in La Belle France do British expats avoid?
National
IN PICTURES: 'Tide of the century' draws tens of thousands
National
Paris ends smog-fighting restrictions as the air finally clears
National
The main mistakes made by French property buyers
National
International French Language day: But what does the future hold?
National
IN PICTURES: What went on behind the clouds during Friday's eclipse
National
French food porn: What is the Gallic grub that goes viral the most?
Culture
France treated to rare Northern Lights show
Politics
Shady candidates undermine French far-right's election bid once again
Politics
French minister takes a swipe at overuse of Franglais in workplace
French gastronomy set for global charm offensive
French newspaper stuns readers with porn film pics on front page
Sport
The reasons why Zlatan Ibrahimovic might really think France is s**t
National
France could soon ban skinny models from catwalks
Health
Is France's much-envied health care system under threat?
National
There are jobs in France where you don't need to speak French
National
New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up
Education
Paris universities on the up in new rankings
Sport
We meet one of the most entertaining footballers in France
National
New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up
Features
Forget Paris. Is Bordeaux the best place to live in France?
Travel
Runaway plane mows down skier on the slopes of French Alps
Society
Friday 13th: A look at France's superstitions
Culture
France is ready to end its stubborn resistance to the English language
Features
'Hedgehog' and other words that French people simply can't say
Society
The worst 'nightmares' of living in France (written by a Frenchman)
Health
French hospitals crisis: 'It's like the UK under Margaret Thatcher'
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in France
VIDEO: Footage emerges of the moment two helicopters collided
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Helicopter crash kills 10, including French sports stars
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in March
New French rail strike: RER B and regional trains to be worst hit
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