Dakar: Mali freed four Islamist militants with ties to al Qaeda in north Africa in exchange for the release of Serge Lazarevic, a French national who was being held by the group, Mali`s justice minister said on Friday.
"Mali cannot deny that it freed them because it is a fact. Everyone knows, it serves no purpose to hide it, but Mali did it under a precise framework," Mohamed Ali Bathily, told French television channel France24.
The minister did not say what, if anything, Mali itself had gained from the deal that led to the release of Lazarevic, 51, on Tuesday.
"While we could do something to save Lazarevic, Mali had to play its own role," Bathily said in the interview.
He said the west African nation had done the same kind of deal to free about 30 of its nationals who were captured in the northern city of Kidal, a stronghold of Tuareg separatists.
Lazarevic was seized with another Frenchman, Philippe Verdon, in northern Mali in 2011. Verdon was killed by his captors last year.
The release of the militants sparked anger in the capital after it was revealed that Mahamed Aly Ag Wadoussene and an accomplice, who were suspected to have carried out the 2011 kidnapping, were part of the four released.
Bathily said legal proceedings against Ag Wadoussene were merely suspended and would continue even after his release. He is also facing charges over a jail break in June, during which a guard was killed.