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France

France denies paying ransom to Syrian Islamists for freed journalists

media L-R: Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Pierre Torrès and Nicolas Henin AFP

The French government has denied paying a ransom to free four journalists who had been held by an Islamist group in Syria for 10 months. German magazine Focus claimed that Ffance paid 18 million dollars (13 million euros) via the Turkish secret services.

The government “categorically” denied Focus’s report, recalling Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius’s assertion that “The French government does not pay ransoms” last Saturday when the four were confirmed to have been freed.

Didier François, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Hénin and Pierre Torrès were kidnapped while working in Syria in June and held by an Islamist armed group.

“Eighteen milion dollars, that’s flattering!” Torrès declared on Saturday, adding that he was “convinced that it was not France that paid”.

Focus, citing Nato sources in Brussels, claimed that Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian personally took the money to Ankara during the week before the hostages were freed and that it was passed on to the kidnappers by the Turkish secret services.

“Everything was done through negotiation, discussion,” Fabius insisted last week.

President François Hollande has publicly ruled out France paying ransoms for hostages, a practice that is often criticised as encouraging further abductions, but there have been unconfirmed reports of cash being handed over in previous cases.

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