The French hostages have been released. Will the mystery be solved? Updated x 3
This time the news of their release is for real, unlike the time a press conference was held in October to announce their release, to no avail. Christian Chesnot, 38, of Radio France Internationale, and Georges Malbrunot, 41, of the French daily Le Figaro, were freed Tuesday by the Islamic Army of Iraq, a group that has claimed responsibility for the killings of some other hostages. They had been held for 124 days. Le Figaro has a timetable (in French).
Their Syrian driver, Mohamed Al-Joundi, had previously been rescued by the Marines in Fallujah on November 12 [the French press says Al-Joundi “had been released”, not rescued, and doesn’t mention the Marines; I had as much as predicted the press would obscure that fact].
The news of Chesnot and Malbrunot’s release was first announced on Al-Jazeera, which read an official statement from the Islamic Army of Iraq. According to the NY Times,
Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel, reported earlier on Tuesday that Iraqi militants had handed over the two men to the French Embassy in Baghdad, but their liberation was not confirmed by France until later in the day
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told party leaders the government had not bought the two journalists’ freedom and insisted that no ransom had been paid. According to President Jacques Chirac, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier would meet the hostages in Cyprus.
French diplomacy’s future is in doubt. Its traditional Arab policy and its non-alignment in the Bush crusade in Iraq neither prevented the worst, nor prevailed in the international scene. It will have to draw its conclusions. And explain its dysfunctioning.
“We must ask for explanations about all stages of their detention,” said Francois Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist Party. Just this Tuesday, prior to the announcement of the hostages’ release, Reporters without Borders (RSF) secretary general Robert Menard was saying the talks were “bogged down” and that France’s Arab policy “has been overestimated, we bypassed the acting Iraqi interim government and France is suffering from its worsening relationship with Syria which backs the resistance in Iraq”.
Interestingly, while there has been videos of the hostages’ families and the public at large celebrating, no video of the released hostages has yet been shown.
Update 2, via Roger, Chirac’s been saying that he credited their freedom to “the responsible and tenacious action of the government and all the services which mobilized with determination and efficiency.”
Update 3: They’ve arrived in France. Video at France2 (go to right sidebar, Vidéos, and Le retour des otages).