Douala, Cameroon:A French family with four young children kidnapped at gunpoint by Islamist extremists in northern Cameroon has been freed after two months in captivity, Cameroonian and French authorities said Friday.
Cameroonian television showed the family stepping off an airplane, a man who had grown a thick beard carrying the smallest child. All appeared thin, but walked steadily.
Neither government offered details on how or where the family was freed overnight. The French president said all seven family members were in good health on Friday in Yaounde, the Cameroon capital, and the foreign minister said they were expected to return to France on Saturday.
The February 19 kidnapping came as thousands of French troops were deeply involved in a military intervention against Islamic extremists in the West African country of Mali, and the French statement recalled that eight other French citizens are still being held hostage in the Sahel region of Africa.
French President Francois Hollande said authorities were able to make contact with the kidnappers through intermediaries, and negotiations intensified in recent days.
“We use all our contacts, but remain firm on our principles,” Hollande said. “We are not changing the principle that France does not pay ransoms.”
The French gas group GDF Suez has identified the captives as an employee who worked in Yaounde and his family. The vacationing group comprised three adults and four children, whom French media reported were between 5 and 12 years old.
Gerard Mastrallet, the head of GDF, said the hostages were freed, but did not offer details.
“We were not involved in any negotiations but we knew that French authorities were very active,” Mastrallet said in an interview with RTL radio.
Last month, a video surfaced showing a man who appeared to be Tanguy Moulin-Fournier. The man said his family was in the custody of the Islamic radical sect known as Boko Haram which wants all its members freed, especially women and children held in Nigerian and Cameroonian custody.
Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria’s north. They are held responsible for more than 790 deaths last year, and dozens more since the beginning of this year.
Moulin-Fournier had said his family was not doing well in captivity.
“We lose force (strength) every day and start to be sick” we will not stay very long like this,” he said in the recording.
Nicolas Moulin-Fournier, brother of the kidnapped man, said the family was bolstered by an outpouring of support and never lost hope.
“That support allowed us to get through this ordeal,” he said.