Four Frenchmen held captive for three years by an Al Qaeda affiliate in Niger were reunited with their families yesterday , amid reports that a ransom of at least €20 million ($28 million) had been paid for their release.

The four men were kidnapped by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in northern Niger in 2010 and were flown to a military airport near Paris, where they were met by their families and French President Francois Hollande.

Standing alongside the four former hostages, Hollande called them “great French citizens who brought honor to France”.

Thierry Dol, 32, Daniel Larribe, 62, Pierre Legrand, 28, and Marc Feret, 46, were kidnapped on September 16, 2010, from a uranium compound in Arlit where they working for French nuclear firm Areva and construction group Vinci.

Press reports from AFP indicate that the Nigerien negotiating team that secured the hostages’ release said that, despite French denials, a ransom was paid. “Between €20 and €25 million was paid to obtain the release of the French hostages,” the reports said.

French newspaper Le Monde also quoted a source close to the negotiations as saying more than €20 million had been paid.

French officials denied any money changed, with the French president’s office saying: “France does not pay ransoms.”

The hostages were reportedly held in different locations to prevent them being freed by force, and were only brought together just days before the release.

Three other hostages who were kidnapped at the same time – Daniel Larribe’s wife Francoise, a Togolese and a Madagascan – were freed back in February 2011.

At least seven French hostages are still in captivity elsewhere in the world. President Hollande vowed to do everything to secure their release.

“Everyone pays, even the British,” Eric Denece, head of France’s CF2R intelligence think tank told AFP. Previously, Britain led G8 efforts to impose a ban on ransom payments, claiming they only encouraged kidnappings. “Ransoms, exchanges, or by force: There is no other way to free hostages,” Denece said.

If this report is true, it is near catastrophic. $28 million can go a very long way to support Jihad.



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