PARIS: A French engineer abducted by militants in Nigeria has managed to escape after nearly a year in captivity, officials said Sunday, in the latest dramatic turn for French hostages abroad.
President Francois Hollande announced that Francis Collomp, 63, was free after being taken by militants on Dec.19, 2012, in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria.
Collomp was handed over to French embassy officials and was on his way to Abuja, said Femi Adenaike Adeleye, the police commissioner in the northern city of Kaduna.
Adeleye said Collomp had escaped in the northern city of Zaria on Saturday while his captors had been praying.
“He watched his captors’ prayer time. They always prayed for 15 minutes. And yesterday they did not lock the door to his cell,” Adeleye said. “While they were at prayer he sneaked out and began to run.”
Collomp stopped a motorcycle taxi and had it take him to the nearest police station, from where he was brought to Kaduna, the regional capital.
Adeleye said Collomp had been held in the city of Kano after his abduction and about two months ago was brought to Zaria.
A French source close to the case said Collomp had escaped during a Nigerian army operation against extremist militants, but Adeleye did not confirm this.
News of his freedom came amid an emotional roller-coaster in France in the last three weeks over foreign hostages.
The nation 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 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’s wife Anne-Marie said she had been at the beach at her home on the French island of Reunion when Hollande called to confirm the news.
“I was speechless, it still does not feel real,” she told journalists outside her home in the town of Le Port.
“The sadness is finally over with, I’m happy, but I’m also thinking of those who are still being held hostage,” she said.
Friends and family later converged on her home, where an impromptu party broke out and Anne-Marie danced with a picture of her husband in her hand.
Told her husband had managed to escape his captors, Anne-Marie burst into laughter, saying: “You see, he’s no idiot my Francis!“