French hostage freed in Mali

French president Hollande says Serge Lazarevic, kidnapped in Mali in 2011, is now a free man.

Hollande said there were no more French hostages in any country in the world [AFP]

France’s only remaining hostage held abroad has been freed, French President Francois Hollande said.

Serge Lazarevic, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011, was freed on Tuesday.

“Our hostage Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage is free,” Hollande said, without naming the location where the hostage was freed and how he was released.

“There are no more French hostages in any country in the world.” 

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said it was not clear whether the government had paid a ransom although French authorities have in the past paid kidnappers to have French hostages freed. 

Hollande said Lazarevic, 51, would be met by his daughter in Niger’s capital Niamey before making his way back to France where he and his family would be welcomed by the president.

“He is in relatively good health, despite the gruelling conditions of his long captivity,” said Hollande.

A Malian security source explained that the final stages of Lazarevic’s release had taken place in the northern desert city of Kidal.

“I won’t say if there was a ransom payment or liberation of prisoners,” the source told the AFP news agency.

Appearances in videos 

In his three years in captivity Lazaravic has appeared in several Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) videos, the most recent of which was in November in which he said he was gravely ill and believed his life to be in danger.

Fears spiked for the safety of the towering Frenchman of Serbian origin after hiker Herve Gourdel was abducted in Algeria and beheaded in September by fighters linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

After Lazarevic’s appearance with a thick beard and dark headdress in the last video, his daughter Diane beseeched Hollande to double down and obtain his release “as fast as possible… for Christmas”.

Kidnapped at a small hotel in Hombori, in Mali’s north, Lazarevic and his fellow Frenchman Philippe Verdon  would be held captive during one of the most turbulent periods of the country’s history.

The pair, who worked in security and construction, were accused by AQIM of being French intelligence agents, something which their families have denied.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies