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HOSTAGE

Al-Qaeda fighters freed for French hostage: Mali

Four Al-Qaeda militants were exchanged for the release of French hostage Serge Lazarevic, a government minister from Mali admitted on Friday.

Al-Qaeda fighters freed for French hostage: Mali
Al-Qaeda militants were exchanged for the release of Serge Lazarevic (left). Photo: AFP

Mali admitted Friday that prisoners had been freed in exchange for the release of French hostage Serge Lazarevic, confirming information given to AFP earlier this week by a security source in the west African country.

"It's a fact, everyone knows, there is no need to deny reality," Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Bathily told France 24 television in response to a question on the issue, three days after Lazarevic, who was kidnapped by Islamist militants in Mali in 2011, was freed.

The 51-year-old was snatched while on a business trip with fellow Frenchman Philippe Verdon in a kidnapping claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Verdon, who suffered from an ulcer and tachycardia — an abnormally fast heartbeat — was found shot dead last year, and those close to his family suggested he had been executed as he was weak.

Lazarevic was France's last remaining hostage, and questions swirled around the terms of his release.

A Malian security source had told AFP on condition of anonymity that Bamako had freed several AQIM prisoners "on request from Paris."

"I can tell you that men, who some may say are terrorists but to us are prisoners, were freed in exchange for the French hostage," the source said.

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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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