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French Hostage Released After Being Held For 3 Years By Al-Qaida


A French hostage returned to Paris today after being held for three years by al-Qaida in the Sahara. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports the man's release has revived questions about whether and how governments should deal with hostage takers.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: 51-year-old businessman Serge Lazarevic was kidnapped three years ago by al-Qaida's affiliate in Mali. This morning, he stepped off a plane at an airport outside of Paris. A smiling Lazarevic spoke to family, journalists and French President Francois Hollande who had gathered on the tarmac to welcome him.


SERGE LAZAREVIC: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: I had forgotten what it's like to be free, he said. I will never forget it again. I want to thank the French people and the French government for everything they did to liberate me. Two Malian al-Qaida suspects were allegedly exchanged for the French hostage. Hollande thanked the governments of Niger and Mali for their aid, but there's no information on whether France paid a ransom.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: So officially, France is not paying ransoms, but we all know that, of course, these payments occur indirectly through local governments.

BEARDSLEY: That's terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brissard. He says governments have a dilemma on how to deal with hostage takers. France stages rescue operations when it can, says Brissard, but if it's not possible it negotiates.

Lazarevic's joyful return was a stark contrast to the recent deaths of several British and American hostages at the hands of the group calling itself the Islamic State. The U.S. and Britain refuse to pay ransom or negotiate with hostage takers. Joel Simon, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, says there must be greater flexibility.

JOEL SIMON: When a life is at stake, I think you have to talk. That's not the same as negotiations. It's not the same as paying ransom. But when a life is at stake there needs to be communication.

BEARDSLEY: Lazarevic was the last French hostage being held abroad. Standing next to him, Hollande had a stern message for French citizens.


HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Do not go where you can be abducted, he said. There are regions where we can no longer travel. We know the risks. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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