French engineer kidnapped in Nigeria in 2012 freed

AFP-JIJI

A French engineer taken hostage by Islamist militants in Nigeria, Francis Collomp, has been freed after nearly a year in captivity, President Francois Hollande said on Sunday.

In a statement, Hollande expressed thanks to Nigerian authorities for helping to secure the release of 63-year-old Collomp, but provided no other details of how he was freed.

“The president greets with joy the release of our compatriot Francis Collomp,” the statement read.

“France had never ceased to make every effort to achieve this happy outcome. The president expresses all of his gratitude to Nigerian authorities, with whom France worked in close cooperation, for their decisive action,” Hollande said.

“This long-awaited news does not make us forget our seven compatriots who are still being held in Syria, in Mali and in Nigeria. France will continue to work tirelessly for their release.”

The statement said Hollande, who arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit, had asked Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to make his way immediately to Nigeria to receive Collomp.

A source in diplomatic circles in Nigeria said Collomp had been freed in the city of Zaria in northern Nigeria and was currently being held in the regional capital Kaduna.

Collomp was kidnapped on Dec. 19, 2012, by around 30 armed men who attacked the residence of French firm Vergnet, the company for which he is working, in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria on the border with Niger.

The kidnapping was claimed by Nigerian radical Islamist group Ansaru, which has links to extremist group Boko Haram.

A source close to the case said Collomp had escaped during a Nigerian army operation against extremist militants.

The source said he fled during an exchange of fire between the army and militants after his cell door was left open.

Collomp’s brother Denis said the news was “a great relief” for his family.

“I heard this from the president himself, who called me from his plane as he was leaving for Israel,” Denis Collomp said.

“I don’t have any other details. . . . I wasn’t expecting this at all, especially as Ansaru has never freed a hostage,” he said.

News of his release came amid an emotional roller coaster in France over foreign hostages, with the release of four prominent captives late last month followed by the kidnapping of a Roman Catholic priest in Cameroon last week.

The four hostages were released and flew home from Niger on October 30 after more than three years in captivity.

They had been kidnapped by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Niger in 2010 and were released amid reports a ransom of at least €20 million ($27 million) had been paid.

Two weeks later, armed men abducted 42-year-old priest Georges Vandenbeusch from his parish in northern Cameroon, with French officials saying he was “most likely” taken to Nigeria.

A source in Boko Haram on Friday said it was holding the priest and had taken him in an operation coordinated with Ansaru.

Ansaru in late September released a video of Collomp reading a statement with an unidentified person holding a weapon in the background.

Parts of his short statement were not clear, but he could be heard calling for his “safe release.”

Ansaru is considered by some to be a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, Nigeria’s more prominent Islamist group which has waged a deadly insurgency since 2009.