Frenchman held 3 years by al-Qaida freed in Africa
PARIS (AP) -- A Frenchman held for more than three years by al-Qaida's North African branch was freed Tuesday, days after two of the men implicated in his abduction were released.
Serge Lazarevic is in "relatively good health" despite the conditions of his captivity, French President Francois Hollande said in announcing his release.
"We no longer have any hostages in any country of the world, and we should not have any," Hollande added.
A security official in Mali, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said Lazarevic's release came after negotiations to free two al-Qaida fighters arrested in their abduction.
The Frenchman kidnapped in Mali in 2011 along with Lazarevic, Philippe Verdon, was found dead in July 2013.
Hollande said the former hostage was en route to the capital of Niger, and thanked the Niger president specifically for helping in the release.
The two al-Qaida detainees were transferred to mediators in Niger on Saturday, and then turned over to al-Qaida. It was not clear if they had remained in Niger.
A French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive, confirmed Lazarevic was released Tuesday but declined to offer details on the release of the al-Qaida prisoners, beyond saying the negotiations were led by Mali and Niger.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took numerous Western hostages until France intervened in Mali in January 2013 to rout extremists. Hostage-taking has proved to be a lucrative business in Mali and other Sahel countries. Hollande's government insists it pays no ransoms, although he has acknowledged that prisoner exchanges have been made on behalf of French hostages.
American officials have quietly accused France among other European countries of paying ransoms.
At one point, at least 14 French nationals were held hostage by Islamic militants in West Africa. Lazarevic, abducted in November 2011, was the last Frenchman known to be held.
Lazarevic and Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori in northeastern Mali in November 2011. Their families have said they were in the region doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory.
Video from during his imprisonment:
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