Three hostages held by al-Qaeda freed in Niger

PARIS: The French government on Friday informed that three hostages held captive by al-Qaeda were freed in Niger, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported.

The three individuals from France, Madagascar and Togo were reported in good health. They were part of the seven people abducted in Niger's uranium-mining town of Arlit in September 2010 and then moved to Mali.

One of the freed hostages is Francoise Larribe, a French national who suffers from cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy when she was abducted. The kidnapping was perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).

The terrorist organization said that the abduction was in retaliation for French "injustices" as said by Osama bin Laden on September 27, 2010. In addition, Aqim demanded France to pull its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the safe return of the hostages.

Five French nationals, along with two others from Madagascar and Togo, were kidnapped in Arlit, located in the Sahara region about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of the capital of Niamey.

The individuals were employees and subcontractors of French nuclear firm Areva, which is based in Paris. The North African branch of Al-Qaeda operates in a vast desert area across Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger

In October, Aqim abducted two French nationals in a restaurant in Niamey. The two 25-year-old hostages were identified as Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory. A French-Niger rescue mission was conducted near the Mali border to rescue the abductees.

However, the soldiers engaged in a firefight with the kidnappers after the rescue failed. Three Niger soldiers were killed as well as some kidnappers. After the shooting, the bodies of the two French nationals were found.

It was the second failed rescue mission in six months in the region. In July 2010, AQIM executed another French hostage, 78-year-old Michel Germeneau, in retaliation for the killing of six of its militants during a failed rescue mission in the Sahel by French and Mauritanian forces.


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