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Africa

French engineer arrives home after daring escape

© FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-18

A former hostage arrived in France Monday morning after 11 months in captivity in Nigeria. Francis Collomp escaped Saturday from the Islamist militant group Ansaru, a feat French President François Hollande called "worthy of an adventure story".

Former hostage Francis Collomp, 63, arrived back in France at 6.15 Monday morning local time after escaping his captors in Nigeria on Saturday.

Pale and thin but smiling, Collomp was welcomed at the miltary airport of Villacoublay by a brother and two sisters as well as French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. He was then taken to a nearby hospital for medical checks as he had lost 30 kilos in captivity and spent 11 months without medication for his heart condition.

Collomp, an engineer, was abducted by the Ansaru militant Islamist group on December 19, 2012.

FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Nigeria, Aminu Abubacar, reported that  no military operation was involved in his escape and that Collomp managed to get away entirely on his own.

“According to the police commissioner, he escaped yesterday. The commissioner told me that Francis Collomp was held for nine months in Kano. Two months ago he was taken to Zaria, about two hours away, where he was kept in a house … [On Saturday, his captors] forgot to lock his cell, and while they were praying, he slipped out and ran,” reported Abubacar from northern Nigeria.

Nigerian Police commissioner Olufemi Adenaike told Reuters that Collomp took a motorcycle taxi to reach the nearest police station. "We handed him over to the French embassy this morning," Adenaike said.

On Sunday Hollande said he was proud of Collomp, whose escape "was worthy of an adventure story".

'Weakened'

Collomp spent his first night of freedom in the Nigerian capital of Abuja before flying back to Paris.

Didier Le Bret, the head of the French foreign ministry's crisis centre, told AFP by telephone that Collomp was "weakened" but in good enough health to travel.

Collomp "lost 30 kilos" (66 pounds) during his ordeal but was in a good mental state, Le Bret said.

"He expressed his wish to return to France and to be reunited with his family on Reunion Island [a French overseas territory],"  Le Bret added.

News of his freedom came amid a stormy three weeks for France over foreign hostages.

The nation rejoiced in late October when four ex-hostages flew home from Niger after more than three years in captivity, but within less than a week was in mourning for two RFI radio journalists abducted and killed by extremist rebels in Mali.

Then last week a Catholic priest, 42-year-old Georges Vandenbeusch, was kidnapped in northern Cameroon and reportedly taken by Islamist militants to Nigeria.

France now has seven hostages officially being held abroad, including the priest, four journalists in Syria and two people taken in Mali. This is the highest number for any nation.

The targeting of French citizens has intensified following France's intervention in Mali and because extremist Islamist groups such as Ansaru, which has links with Boko Haram and wants to establish an Islamic caliphate, see the French state as anti-Muslim.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-11-18

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