NIAMEY: Four Frenchmen kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Niger were on their way back to France on Wednesday after more than three years of “nightmare” captivity.
The four men, who were kidnapped by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Niger in 2010, took off around 6 a.m. local time in a white government plane bound for Paris where they were expected to be met by President Francois 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 said on Tuesday.
The plane was expected to arrive in France around 10:45 a.m.
The exact circumstances of their release were not immediately clear. But the French government said there had been no military assault to free them and that no ransom had been paid. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is flying back with the hostages, said the hostages were in “very good shape.”
“They have been hostages for three years and the nightmare is finally over,” he said.
Speaking to reporters before the hostages take-off, Fabius joined Hollande in paying tribute to the authorities in Niger.
“Our services, everyone, worked together but the Nigeriens helped us enormously. We have to take their hats off to them.”