French hostage Francis Collomp, 63, escaped his captors in Nigeria, the office of President François Hollande said in a statement on Sunday.
Collomp had been held since being abducted by the Ansaru Islamist group on December 19, 2012.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Nigeria, Aminu Abubacar, reported that there were no military operation involved and that Collomp managed to escape entirely on his own.
“According to the police commissioner, he escaped yesterday. The commissioner told me that Francis Collomp was held for nine months in Kano. Two months ago he was taken to Zaria, about two hours away, where he was kept in a house (…) Yesterday [his captors] forgot to lock his cell, and while they were praying, he slipped out and ran”, said FRANCE 24’s Abubacar from northern Nigeria.
Nigerian Police commissioner Olufemi Adenaike told Reuters that Collomp took a motorcycle taxi to reach the nearest police station. “We handed him over to the French embassy this morning,” Adenaike added.
‘Lost 30 kilos’
Collomp was in Abuja and was due to fly back to Paris on Sunday night, Didier Le Bret, the head of the French foreign ministry’s crisis center, told AFP by telephone after he had arrived in the Nigerian capital.
Le Bret said Collomp was “weakened” but in good enough health to travel. He was expected to arrive in Paris around 6:00 am (0500 GMT) Monday in the company of Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was on his way to Abuja.
Collomp “lost 30 kilos” (66 pounds) during his ordeal but was in a good mental state, Le Bret said.
“He expressed his wish to return to France and to be reunited with his family on the Island of Reunion,” a French overseas territory, Le Bret added.
Wearing jeans and a light blue shirt, Collomp looked extremely tired as he emerged from the police station in Kaduna and was handed over to French embassy officials.
News of his freedom came amid an emotional roller-coaster in France in the last three weeks over foreign hostages.
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 Cameroon 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.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)