Four hostages freed in Burkina Faso by French special forces

Friday May 10 2019

French citizens Laurent Lassimouillas (left) and Patrick Picque posing at an undisclosed location. The French army has released four hostages during an intervention in northern Burkina Faso in which two French soldiers were killed. PHOTO | AFP


French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight military raid that cost the lives of two soldiers, the French presidency said Friday.

The operation was ordered to free the French hostages, identified as Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, who disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1.

The identity of the American and South Korean hostages was not immediately known, but they were both said to be women in the statement.

The location of the raid confirmed that the French tourists had been kidnapped in Benin and taken over the nearby border into Burkina Faso, where Islamist terror groups have stepped up attacks in recent months.

President Emmanuel Macron "wants to congratulate the French armed forces for the liberation of the hostages, and includes everyone who worked alongside them," a statement from the presidency said.

"He bows with emotion and solemnity before the sacrifice of our two soldiers who gave their lives to save those of our citizens," the statement added.


'Complex operation'

In a separate statement, Defence Minister Florence Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States for its "precious support".

Former colonial ruler France has 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed Barkhane to help local forces try to flush out jihadist groups.

American special forces and drones are also thought to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.

Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

The French tourists and their local guide went missing in the Pendjari wildlife reserve, known for its elephants and lions in usually peaceful and stable Benin, but which lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.

The badly disfigured body of their wildlife guide was found shortly afterwards, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.

The two men, music teachers from the Paris region, are expected to travel back to France on Sunday.

South Korea's ambassador in Paris was unable to comment on the identity of the freed Korean national.

"We do not have detailed information, but we are in close contact with French authorities. I can't say anything now," Jongmoon Choi told AFP by telephone.

The US embassy in Paris was unavailable for comment.