Paris: Four Frenchmen taken hostage by Islamic extremists in Niger have been released after three years of captivity, President Francois Hollande announced on Tuesday.
The four were captured in September 2010 by the North African wing of al Qaeda, spirited from their dormitories in the French-operated mining town of Arlit, where they worked for the French nuclear company Areva.
Hollande made the announcement during a trip to Slovakia, and fully credited Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou for their release.
He did not give details of exactly how or when they were freed, but said that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian were heading to Niamey, the capital of Niger, to bring them home.
A grandfather of one of the freed hostages told French television that they were all in good health.
France chased radical Islamic extremists who held a grip on the north of neighboring Mali, killing or scattering them across the Sahel region. Hollande said in his announcement that he had been determined to free hostages but the effort was interrupted by the French-led invasion. Those efforts were "immediately taken up" once the invasion ended.
Seven French hostages are still held: two in the Sahel region, where Mali and Niger are located; one in Nigeria; and four in Syria.