The French engineer, Francis Collomp, who was held hostage for 11 months by Islamist militants in Nigeria arrived home Monday, after a dramatic escape described as worthy of an action thriller.
The plane carrying Collomp, accompanied by France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, landed early Monday at a military airport outside Paris.
The 63-year-old emerged from the plane looking extremely tired and drawn, but smiling.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), he was met by six relatives and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Collomp, who lost an estimated 40 kilogrammes (90 pounds) during his captivity but was reported to be in good spirits, was to undergo medical tests and counselling at the Val de Grace military hospital in Paris.
He would also be debriefed by agents from the DGSE, France’s external intelligence agency, on his capture, detention and escape.
French President Francois Hollande compared Collomp’s escape to “an adventure story”, saying he was proud of his compatriot and his “exceptional courage”.
Collomp was captured by Islamist militants on December 19, 2012, in Katsina State.
The exact circumstances of his escape remained unclear but the different versions all indicate that he daringly seized an opportunity to flee his captors.
According to his brother Denis, Collomp escaped after locking up his captors, who were offering evening prayers.
He had already tampered with a wire used to lock his cell door.
He had “prepared the escape by doing physical training” and walking for the equivalent of up to 15 kilometres (nine miles) in his cell every day, he said.
He said after his escape, his brother walked for four to five kilometres (2.5 to three miles) until he found a motorcycle taxi, which took him to a police station.
Nigerian police said Collomp had escaped in Zaria on Saturday ,while his captors were praying.
Another version suggested Collomp had taken advantage of a Nigerian military operation to sneak out of his unlocked cell. But this was denied by his brother.
Collomp’s wife, Anne-Marie, said yesterday that she “did not recognise my husband,” but added that he was “thin and tired, but happy.”
“He told me he had lost 40 kilos,” she told BFMTV, speaking from her home on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
Emotional roller-coaster for France News of Collomp’s escape came amid an emotional roller-coaster in France in the last three weeks over the fate of hostages held overseas.
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 Cameroun and reportedly taken by Islamist 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 was kidnapped by about 30 armed men who attacked the residence of French firm Vergnet, the company for which he was working, in Katsina State on the border with Niger Republic.
The kidnapping, which left two bodyguards and a bystander dead, was claimed by Nigerian radical Islamist group Ansaru, which has links to extremist group Boko Haram.