The last French national being held hostage anywhere in the world has been released and is on his way home, President Francois Hollande has said.
Serge Lazarevic was a captive of al-Qaeda's North African branch for more than three years, after he was taken prisoner in northern Mali alongside Philippe Verdon in November 2011. The worst had been feared for Lazarevic after Verdon was found dead in July 2013.
The French President said Lazarevic was in “relatively good health” despite his years of captivity, and that he was being transported to Niger, whose help in securing the release warranted specific thanks from Hollande.
“Our hostage Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage is free,” Hollande told reporters on Tuesday. “There are no more French hostages in any country in the world.”
At one point, there were reported to be at least 14 French nationals held hostage by Islamic militants in west and north Africa.
The news of Lazarevic’s release comes just three days after the death of the British-born US journalist Luke Somers in a failed rescue attempt, and will put increased pressure on countries like the US and UK which refuse to negotiate with terrorists.
A security official in Mali told the Associated Press that Lazarevic's release came after negotiations to free two al-Qaeda fighters who were arrested during the abduction of the Frenchmen.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took a large number of Western hostages until French intervention in January 2013, in what has proved to be a lucrative business in Mali and other Sahel countries.
While US officials have accused France of being among a number of countries who pay ransoms to terrorists, President Hollande has insisted this is not the case – although he has acknowledged his government's use of prisoner exchanges.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies