French President Francois Hollande welcomed a family of seven back to France early yesterday as they flew into Paris after two months in the hands of Nigerian Islamist militants.
The Moulin-Fournier family, which includes four boys aged between five and 12, flew in from Cameroon on a French government Falcon jet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Blankets draped over their shoulders against the early-morning chill and smiling broadly, they stepped off the plane and into the arms of relatives before retiring to the airport’s VIP pavilion.
“It’s over, we made it,” Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, the father, said.
The French president declared: “Today, life has won.”
The former hostages took off from the Cameroonian capital Yaounde late on Friday, having earlier met Cameroonian President Paul Biya.
The French government has not so far shed any light on how their release was secured — except to say that no ransom was paid and there was no military operation to free them.
“The French authorities carried out their duty discreetly,” Hollande said at the airport, thanking Cameroon and Nigeria for their help in resolving the crisis “with a special thought for Paul Biya ... who played an important role these past few days.”
Tanguy and Albane Moulin-Fournier, their four children and Tanguy’s brother, Cyril, were kidnapped in Cameroon on Feb. 19 and taken to neighboring Nigeria.
Their captors were the Boko Haram group, a Islamist sect blamed for a string of deadly attacks since a 2009 insurgency in northern Nigeria.
However, on Thursday night, in a surprise development, they were handed over to the Cameroonian authorities, thinner and exhausted but otherwise in good health.
“We are all very tired but normal life will now resume,” Tanguy said in the capital, Yaounde. “It has been very long and difficult, it was hard psychologically and we had some very low moments. But we stuck together and that was crucial. As a family, we kept up each other’s spirits.”
Fabius said they had been freed overnight in an area between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Hollande has insisted that France had paid no ransom and his aides said the liberation of the hostages had not involved the use of force.
He thanked the Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities for their help in the affair.
The family’s abduction occurred as France was deploying thousands of troops to fight Islamic extremists in Mali, another former French colony in the region.
At least seven other French citizens are being held hostage by various militants in the Sahel region south of the Sahara.
The Moulin-Fournier family were visiting the Waza National Park in northern Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria, when they were kidnapped.
Tanguy Moulin-Fournier worked for the French gas group GDF Suez in Yaounde. He and his wife, and their four sons, Eloi, Andeol, Mael and Clarence, had been based there since 2011. Cyril Moulin-Fournier was visiting from Barcelona.