• 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
Le Pen says 'non' to offer of a drink with Madonna
Marine Le Pen and Madonna won't be meeting for a 'demi' anytime soon. Photo: AFP

Le Pen says 'non' to offer of a drink with Madonna

France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen has said no thanks to an offer from US pop icon Madonna to "sit down and have a drink". The pair famously fell out when one of Madonna's videos featured an image of Le Pen complete with a swastika on her forehead READ  

Appeal in France to identify lost children
These two children were found by a homeless man wandering around Nice train station. Photo: AFP

Appeal in France to identify lost children

Authorities in the southern French city of Nice have launched an urgent witness appeal to try to identify two children found wandering around a train station by a homeless man last week. READ  

France's most disputed building projects
The ambitious Europa City shopping centre is just one of the projects that has provoked opposition from environmentalists. Photo: Europa City

France's most disputed building projects

They've provoked protests, violent riots and even deaths. From planes and trains to 1,000 cows, here's a look at some of the highly contentious engineering projects in France right now. READ  

Hollande calls for more progress in Ukraine
An instructor of the Ukrainian volunteer Azov Battalion conducts training exercises in Kiev. Photo: AFP

Hollande calls for more progress in Ukraine

French President Francois Hollande has agreed to further steps in putting last month's Ukraine ceasefire accords into action on Monday evening in a phone conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko. READ  

France brings in 'expiry dates' on electronics
Wouldn't you like to have a "use by date" on your TV? Photo: Leslie Duss/Flickr

France brings in 'expiry dates' on electronics

France has introduced new measures to ensure that customers won't be stung by cheap and faulty electronic goods, passing a new decree to ensure vendors publish "expiry dates" on products. READ  

France to resist new call to ban smacking of kids
France will resist calls to ban smacking, despite criticism from human rights body. Photo: AFP

France to resist new call to ban smacking of kids

The French government says it will resist pressure for it to bring in an outright ban on smacking children, despite the fact it is set to be condemned by Europe’s top human rights body for failing to clearly outlaw corporal punishment. READ  

Eurostar services restart after death on line
Eurostar passengers faced massive disruption on Monday when services were cancelled after person was hit on the line in the UK. Photo /AFP

Eurostar services restart after death on line

Eurostar service resumed on Monday evening following a series of cancellations sparked when a person was struck and killed by a train on the English side of the cross-Channel service. READ  

France to cut 22,000 hospital jobs to save €3b
Anti-capitalists protest outside a hospital in France over proposed cuts. Photo: AFP

France to cut 22,000 hospital jobs to save €3b

The French government’s bid to cut €3 billion off its bill for hospital spending will see up to 22,000 posts deleted over the next two years. READ  

British charity bids to ban smacking in France
Is it time to put an outright ban on smacking children in France? Photo: Smacking photo

British charity bids to ban smacking in France

Europe's top human right's body the Council of Europe is set to rule whether France should implement a clear and total ban on smacking children, after a British charity lodged a formal complaint that France was flouting European standards. READ  

Nutella bans 'lesbian' and 'Muslim' from jars
Nutella has been mocked for its personalised marketing campaign. Photo: Nutella Photo/Shutterstock

Nutella bans 'lesbian' and 'Muslim' from jars

Nutella has been the subject of much mockery in France after its advertising campaign aimed at personalizing jars banned a list of words including 'Lesbian', 'Muslim', 'toilet' and 'poo'. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
From planes to 1,000 cows - France's most controversial building projects
National
Time to move home? Pyrenees hamlet cut off after massive mudslide
National
Over 200 skeletons found in mass grave under Paris supermarket
Culture
Madonna has compared France and Europe to Nazi Germany
Culture
Are you also unimpressed by your French boss?
National
UK councillor blasted for 250km French commute
National
Say it with Nutella: Except the words 'lesbian', 'Muslim' and many more
Culture
Looking for something different to do in France in March? Here's 10 ideas
National
How can France enforce a no-drone zone over Paris?
Gallery
Here's how to be cool in Paris, according to Parisians
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best one to work in?
National
Why do so many women in France smoke throughout their pregnancy?
National
VIDEO: Banned but beautiful - Paris seen through the eyes of a drone
National
Would you want this Frenchman to squeal at YOUR wedding?
National
'We're back' - Charlie Hebdo magazine returns with a bite
Society
Handsome men on the Paris Metro are unknowingly going viral
Society
What are the little things that make France so different?
National
Should we be worried about drones being flown over Paris?
Travel
Another deadly avalanche in the French Alps
National
Text offences: Why French workers need to watch out in future
Gallery
Mont-Saint-Michel cut off as 'supertide' season opens in France
Gallery
Ten great moments for France throughout Oscar history
Culture
Anglo-French marriage problems begin long before anyone says 'Oui'
Travel
'The stars are aligned': Why now is the time to buy a house in France
National
IN PICTURES: 'Supertide' brings crowds to the French coast
Gallery
French property Face-off: Two luxury chalets in the French Alps
Travel
French coastal towns are braced for the 'tide of the century'
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Politics
Socialist rebel MPs are angry but not ready to topple French government
Society
France to welcome another US fast food giant
Culture
Les Entrepreneurs: How to watch Paris theatre shows in English
Culture
So where are all these swinging sex clubs in Paris?
Sport
VIDEO: 'We're racist' - Chelsea fans push black man off Paris Metro
Culture
Sex clubs touted as latest fashion in Paris
Culture
In pictures: The ever-colourful Dunkirk carnival
National
Do you worry about your French accent? Perhaps you have no need to
National
VIDEO: 'Fear and loathing' - Being a Jew in Paris
National
Why the DSK trial could spell bad news for French prostitutes
Society
The sorry recent history of anti-Semitic attacks in France
National
'Je suis Danois' - Paris shows solidarity with Copenhagen
Culture
Obituary: Louis Jourdan - The actor who embodied French elegance
National
France outraged after hundreds of Jewish tombs vandalised
Culture
Romance in France: Sex, Champagne and Je t'aime
Culture
Fox News was right, there are no-go zones in Paris (for anyone single)
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
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