French hostage held nearly a year escapes in Nigeria
A French engineer abducted by Islamist militants in Nigeria has managed to escape after nearly a year in captivity, officials said Sunday, in the latest dramatic turn for French hostages abroad.
President Francois Hollande announced that Francis Collomp, 63, was free after being taken by Islamist militants on December 19, 2012, in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria.
Collomp was handed over to French embassy officials and was on his way to Abuja, said Femi Adenaike Adeleye, the police commissioner in the northern city of Kaduna.
Adeleye said Collomp had escaped in the northern city of Zaria on Saturday while his captors had been praying.
"He watched his captors' prayer time. They always prayed for 15 minutes. And yesterday they did not lock the door to his cell," Adeleye said. "While they were at prayer he sneaked out and began to run."
Collomp stopped a motorcycle taxi and had it take him to the nearest police station, from where he was brought to Kaduna, the regional capital.
Adeleye said Collomp had been held in the city of Kano after his abduction and about two months ago was brought to Zaria.
A French source close to the case said Collomp had escaped during a Nigerian army operation against extremist militants, but Adeleye did not confirm this.
News of his freedom came amid an emotional roller-coaster in France in the last three weeks over foreign hostages.
The nation rejoiced in late October when four ex-hostages flew home from Niger after more than three years in captivity, but within less than a week was in mourning for two radio journalists abducted and killed by extremist rebels in Mali.
Then last week a Roman Catholic priest, 42-year-old Georges Vandenbeusch, was kidnapped in northern Cameroon and reportedly taken by Islamist militants to Nigeria.
France now has seven hostages officially being held abroad, including the priest, four journalists in Syria and two people taken in Mali.
In a statement on Collomp's release, Hollande revealed no details of how he had been freed but did thank Nigerian authorities for their "decisive action" in the case.
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 to Nigeria to greet Collomp.
A source in Hollande's office said he had spoken to Collomp and his family by telephone from the presidential plane while en route to Israel.
Hollande hailed Collomp's "bravery" during the conversation and the ex-hostage had seemed "tired", the source said.
Collomp was kidnapped by about 30 armed men who attacked the residence of French firm Vergnet, the company for which he is working, in the state of Katsina on the border with Niger.
The kidnapping, which left two bodyguards and a bystander dead, was claimed by Nigerian radical Islamist group Ansaru, which has links to extremist group Boko Haram.
'The sadness is finally over'
Collomp's wife Anne-Marie said she had been at the beach at her home on the French island of Reunion when Hollande called to confirm the news.
"I was speechless, it still does not feel real," she told journalists outside her home in the town of Le Port.
"The sadness is finally over with, I'm happy, but I'm also thinking of those who are still being held hostage," she said.
Friends and family later converged on her home, where an impromptu party broke out and Anne-Marie danced with a picture of her husband in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.
Told her husband had managed to escape his captors, Anne-Marie burst into laughter, saying: "You see, he's no idiot my Francis!"
Reached by telephone at his home near the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence Collomp's brother Denis also said his release was a "great relief" for his family.
"I wasn't expecting this at all, especially as Ansaru has never freed a hostage," he told AFP.
Ansaru in late September released a video of Collomp reading a statement, in which he could be heard calling for his "safe release."
© 2013 AFP