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Four hostages released in Niger en route to France

AFP

Four French hostages held in Niger since being abducted by militants in 2010 have been released, President François Hollande said Tuesday. Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Féret are expected back in France early Wednesday.

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Four French nationals kidnapped by an al Qaeda affiliate in Niger in 2010 have been released, French President François Hollande said on Tuesday.

Hollande made the announcement during a trip to Slovakia, and thanked Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou for their release.

Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Féret – employees of French nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom – were kidnapped from the northern uranium mining town of Arlit on September 16, 2010.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian flew to Niamey on Tuesday to bring the men home.

They said that no ransom had been paid nor was any military operation involved in the hostages' release.

On September 17, three years after the kidnapping, al Qaeda’s North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), released images and a video claiming to show seven foreign hostages, including the four kidnapped from Arlit as well as a Dutchman, a Swede and a South African who were abducted from Timbuktu in northern Mali in November 2011.

A French foreign ministry spokesman has described the video as credible.

AQIM was founded in 2006 in the Maghreb, which refers to the Western-most outpost of the Arab world, a loosely defined region stretching across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and the remote transition belt between the Sahara desert and the African savannah called the Sahel.

A hostile, forbidding terrain that straddles national borders, the Sahel has historically been Africa’s badlands, affording shelter to smugglers, traffickers, insurgents and militants of various stripes.

The chronic political instability in impoverished West African nations such as Niger, Mali and Mauritania make it a militant haven.

Following the March 22, 2012, military coup in Mali – which precipitated the fall of northern Mali to a motley mix of militant groups – AQIM strengthened its presence in the West African nation. Months later, as Islamists began to push into central Malian towns, France responded to a call for assistance by the Malian government, launching a military operation on January 11, 2013.

Before the French military operation in Mali and the Algerian hostage-taking, AQIM was primarily known in international counter-terror circles as the group responsible for the kidnapping of mainly European nationals in the Sahel and the executions of British tourist Edwin Dyer and French aid worker Michel Germaneau.
 

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