Question Remain about French Hostage Release

Yesterday, the French announced that Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand, and Marc Feret, employees of the French nuclear company Areva who had been taken by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on 16 September 2010 at a uranium mine near Arlit in Niger, had been released.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius flew back to Paris from Niamey with the hostages today, where they were greeted by French President Francois Hollande, who then made some remarks.  President Hollande did mention that France is still working on the release of at least seven other hostages, including three in North Africa.

When it was announced on Tuesday, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the release had been secured without the use of military force and without the payment of a ransom.  However, AFP subsequently reported that a ransom of 20 million euros, drawn from a secret intelligence service fund, may have been paid.  French authorities deny this, but no significant details about the negotiations have been provided.  The original AFP wire note on this appears to be available only in French, but does not name the source of the information.

This release of French hostages comes well after the French made an abortive attempt to free DGSE agent Denis Allex in January.  The rescue operation, conducted with US support, failed to free Allex, who was either killed during the operation or by his captors afterwards.  A major embarrassment for the French government, the experience in January may have played a role in the handling of this situation.

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