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Le Pen hints at ‘Homeland’ radicalisation of French hostages

Europe 1

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Thursday that images of four French men freed after three years being held hostage by Islamists had left her feeling “uncomfortable” and called on the men to explain their “strange clothing” and long beards.

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Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Féret were given a heroes’ welcome when they returned to France on Wednesday after being freed from a three-year hostage ordeal at the hands of al Qaeda-linked militants in Africa’s desert Sahel region.

President François Hollande was on hand to greet the four men, kidnapped in Niger in 2010, as they arrived at Villacoublay military airfield near Paris.

But it seems not all French politicians were so eager to welcome the freed hostages back to France.

In an interview with French radio on Thursday, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party, appeared to hint that she fears the men may have become radicalised by their captors while in Africa, in a theory reminiscent of the plot of the US TV series Homeland.

Beards, clothes ’require some explanation’

Le Pen said the men’s manner and appearance - including their clothing and facial hair - had left her “sceptical”.

“I felt uncomfortable seeing those images,” she told Europe 1. “I think I wasn’t the only one. I found their extremely reserved manner astonishing, I found their clothing astonishing.”

National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen said on Thursday that she regretted her “clumsy” criticism of the appearance of the released hostages.

What she had meant to criticise, she said, was their “exploitation” by the French and Niger governments.

“I expressed myself extremely clumsily,” she told RTL radio. “I have no criticism of the hostages and of course I am extremely happy that they have been freed.”

Pressed to explain, she continued: “They seemed to be images of men who were very reserved, two with beards cut in an astonishing manner, the clothing was strange. And the hostage with the scarf on his face ... All this requires some explanation on their part.”

The interviewer then asks if she is suggesting the men may have been Islamicised during their three years as hostages.

“I’m not a psychiatrist,” she replied. “I am expressing the feelings I had, which I think were shared by a lot of the French public. I’m not going to make theories, it would not be my place.”

All four men were working at a uranium mine in Arlit, in the north of Niger, when they were taken hostage. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for their kidnapping.

Another two French citizens are still being held hostage in the Sahel.

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