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HOSTAGE

Last French hostage arrives back in Paris

France's last remaining hostage, Serge Lazarevic, arrived back in Paris on Wednesday after being held for three years by Islamist militants. As he touched down he was greeted by French President François Hollande.

Last French hostage arrives back in Paris
Serge Lazarevic (second left) is greeted by French President François Hollande (second right) on his arrival in Paris.

A plane carrying the 51-year-old, who was snatched by armed men in Mali on November 24, 2011, touched down at a military base near Paris.

Serge Lazarevic, 51, was snatched by armed men in Mali on November 24, 2011 while on a business trip with fellow Frenchman Philippe Verdon in a kidnapping claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Lazarevic, sporting a closely-cropped beard, shared a joke with Hollande and the rest of his family after exiting the  jet with his daughter.

He was expected to be taken immediately to a military hospital for check-ups before returning to the comfort of his family, according to a diplomatic source.

"The doctor gave him a check-up on the plane and he's doing well," this source said."I lost about 20 kilos, but I'm in fine shape," Lazarevic said earlier after meeting with Nigerian president Mahamadou Issoufou.

There was no immediate information on how the release was secured or whether France paid a ransom, but Lazarevic expressed his gratitude for Nigeria's role.

"I would like to thank the president of Niger (and) the people of Niger, who worked with France for my freedom," he said.

In his three years in captivity, Lazarevic appeared in several AQIM videos, the most recent of which was in November in which he said he was gravely ill and believed his life was in danger.

After Lazarevic's appearance with a thick beard and dark headdress in the last video, his daughter Diane urged Hollande to obtain his release "as fast as possible… for Christmas."

Fears spiked for the safety of the tall Frenchman of Serbian origin after hiker Herve Gourdel was abducted in Algeria and beheaded in September by Islamic State-linked militants.

In his three years in captivity, Lazarevic appeared in several AQIM videos, the most recent of which was in November in which he said he was gravely ill and believed his life was in danger.

After Lazarevic's appearance with a thick beard and dark headdress in the last video, his daughter Diane urged Hollande to obtain his release "as fast as possible… for Christmas."

Fears spiked for the safety of the tall Frenchman of Serbian origin after hiker Herve Gourdel was abducted in Algeria and beheaded in September by Islamic State-linked militants.

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HOSTAGE

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends

An inmate armed with a homemade weapon took two guards hostage at a high-security prison in northwest France on Tuesday before both were freed unharmed five hours later, authorities said.

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded. Photo: AFP
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded at the Conde-sur-Sarthe Penitentiary Centre, which holds dangerous or radicalised prisoners and those with serious discipline problems.
   
The prisoner, armed with the improvised weapon, had taken the guard and the female trainee hostage during meal time, officials said.
   
The guard was released first and then the female trainee was also freed, both “safe and sound”, before the prisoner surrendered, the national Prison Administration Directorate said.
 
Photo: AFP
   
No further details were immediately available about how the guards were freed or whether it involved a negotiation.
   
A justice ministry source said the inmate has a history of psychiatric problems and hostage taking. He has convictions for robbery, rape and for the murder of a prison cellmate.
   
Elite police units had arrived at the prison by three helicopters, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
   
Security measures were increased in Conde-sur-Sarthe after a prisoner stabbed two guards with a homemade knife in March. After failed negotiations to end a standoff, security units launched an assault, wounding the prisoner.
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