Monday, November 18, 2013

Nigeria: French Engineer, 63, Successfully Escapes from Ansuru Kidnappers, Held Eleven Months

According to AFP,  French engineer Francis Collomp, 63, held hostage for eleven months by Islamist militants in Nigeria arrived home Monday (November 18). 

An aircraft carrying Collomp, accompanied by France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, landed earlier today at a military airport outside Paris.

The 63-year-old emerged from the plane looking extremely tired and drawn, but smiling. He was met by relatives and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Collomp, who lost an estimated 40 kilogrammes (90 pounds) during his captivity, but was reported to be in good spirits, was to undergo medical tests and counseling at the Val de Grace military hospital in Paris. He will also be debriefed by agents from the DGSE, France's external intelligence agency, on his capture, detention and escape.

French President François Hollande compared Collomp's escape to "an adventure story," saying he was proud of his compatriot and his "exceptional courage."

COMMENT: Mr. Collomp was captured by Islamist militants on December 19, 2012, in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria.

The exact circumstances of his escape remained unclear, but the different versions all indicate that he daringly seized an opportunity to flee his captors.

Collomp escaped after locking up his captors who were offering evening prayers, his brother Denis told AFP.

Denis Collomp said that after his escape, his brother walked for four to five kilometers (2.5 to three miles) until he found a motorcycle taxi, which took him to a police station.

Nigerian police said Collomp had escaped in the northern city of Zaría on Saturday while his captors were praying.

Collomp's wife, Anne-Marie, said Monday that she "did not recognise my husband," but added that he was "thin and tired but happy."

France 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.

Collomp was kidnapped by about 30 armed men who attacked the residence of French firm Vergnet, the company for which he was 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.

Mr. Collomp is to be congratulated for his successful escape as less than 5% of captives ever escape, let alone successfully. 

Yet, the large number of French hostages in Sub-Saharan Africa should be a reminder to all French citizens of the clear and present danger of French nationals being abducted in the region and the need for them to prepare for such a potentiality.