French hostage home from Nigeria after 'daring' escape

French hostage home from Nigeria after 'daring' escape
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (2ndR) welcomes French former hostage Francis Collomp (C) upon his arrival at the military airport of Villacoublay outside Paris, on November 18, 2013, the day after he escaped his captors during a Nigerian army operation against Islamist group Boko Haram. Collomp, a 63 year-old engineer, fled during an exchange of fire between the army and Boko Haram after his cell door was left open. Collomp was abducted by Islamist militants on December 19, 2012, in the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria.

PARIS - A French engineer held hostage for 11 months by Islamist militants in Nigeria's troubled north arrived home after a dramatic escape described as worthy of an action thriller.

A plane carrying the emaciated Francis 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. He was met by six relatives and French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Collomp, who lost an estimated 40 kilograms in weight 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 will 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 the state of Katsina in northern Nigeria.

The exact circumstances of his escape remained unclear but the different versions all indicate that he bravely seized an opportunity to flee his captors.

Nigerian police said Collomp had escaped in the northern city of Zaria on Saturday while his captors were praying.

"He watched his captors' prayer time. They always prayed for 15 minutes. And yesterday they did not lock the door to his cell," said Femi Adenaike Adeleye, the police commissioner in the regional capital of Kaduna.

"While they were at prayer he sneaked out and began to run."

Another version suggested Collomp had taken advantage of a Nigerian military operation to sneak out of his unlocked cell.

He then stopped a motorcycle taxi and had it take him to the nearest police station, from where he was brought to Kaduna.

Adeleye said Collomp had been held in the city of Kano after his abduction and about two months ago brought to Zaria.

Collomp's wife Anne-Marie said Monday that she "did not recognise my husband," but added that he was "thin and tired but happy."

"He told he he had lost 40 kilos," she told BFMTV, speaking from her home on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

As the news broke, friends and family converged on her home, where an impromptu party broke out and Anne-Marie Collomp danced with a picture of her husband in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.

Didier Le Bret, the head of the French foreign ministry's crisis centre, earlier told AFP Collomp was "weakened" but in good enough health to travel.

He was mentally in good shape due to the mental and physical exercises he carried out during captivity, Le Bret said.

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