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Reporters’ murder spurred French hostage to escape

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2013-11-22

It was the murder of two journalists from FRANCE 24’s sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI) that gave French hostage Francis Collomp the courage to make a dramatic escape from his Nigerian captors, he told RFI on Friday.

The French hostage held in northern Nigeria for 11 months resolved to escape his captors when he heard the news that two journalists from FRANCE 24’s sister channel Radio France Internationale (RFI) had been murdered in Mali.

Engineer Francis Collomp, 63, told RFI on Friday that he was “shocked” when he heard on his hand-held radio – on an RFI bulletin in early November – that Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon had been murdered.

“The news hit me hard,” he said. “The fact that the deaths were linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) really made me think. Once I got over the shock, I found the strength to plan my escape.”

The captor's ‘huge mistake’

Collomp explained that during his confinement he had been transferred from the northern Nigerian city of Kano “because I had figured out where I was”, but did not know that his new location was Zaria, 160 km to the south-east.

But despite this uncertainty, he was determined to make a break from his kidnappers - because he was convinced "that they would kill me".

He explained how one of them made “the huge mistake” of leaving the keys to his two-room prison in the lock when coming in to use the toilet – and decided that he would exploit this opportunity if it ever arose again.

He got his chance when one of his captors left the key in the door once more. He crept to the door, locked it from the outside, and ran for his life.

“I ran for the first 300-400 metres,” he said. “But as soon as I got to a main road where there were more people and traffic, I slowed down to a walk so as not to draw attention to myself.”

Fingers crossed

Trying to maintain his composure, Collomp hailed a motorcycle taxi and told the driver to take him to the nearest police station.

“I crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t ask me to pay for the fare up front,” he said, recounting how the only items of value in his possession was a small LED torch and his handheld radio, an item that for sentimental reasons he was “determined to hold on to”.

He got to the police station without a hitch, and was taken immediately to the regional capital Kaduna. He was on a flight and back in his native France the following day.

Collomp was kidnapped on December 19, 2012 from the residence of his employer, French wind turbine manufacturer Vergnet, in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina.

The kidnapping, in which two bodyguards and a bystander were killed, was claimed by Nigerian militant Islamist group Ansaru.

A relatively new group, Ansaru is considered a breakaway of the better known Boko Haram.

The two groups were officially placed on the US State Department list of foreign terrorist organisations (FTO) last week.

Date created : 2013-11-22


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