Hostages Rescued From Burkina Faso ‘Hell’ Praise Fallen French Commandos

May 13, 2019 Updated: May 13, 2019

OUAGADOUGOU/PARIS—Three hostages freed by French commandos from terrorists in Burkina Faso arrived in Paris on May 12, expressing sorrow at the death of two French soldiers in the rescue operation.

President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the hostages as they stepped off the French government jet less than 48 hours after French special forces stormed their captors’ hideout in a daring night-time raid.

Two Frenchmen kidnapped while on safari in Benin more than a week earlier, as well as an American woman and a South Korean woman who were being held with them, were liberated in the high-risk mission authorized by Macron. The American, who has not been identified, was being repatriated separately.

Macron welcomes hostages freed by French commandos in Sahel, in Villacoublay
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French Defence Minister Florence Parly walk alongside freed French hostages Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas and a South Korean hostage as they arrive at the Villacoublay airport, in Velizy-Villacoublay, France on May 11, 2019. (Francois Guillot/Pool via Reuters)

“All our thoughts go to the families of the soldiers and to the soldiers who lost their lives to free us from this hell,” Laurent Lassimouillas earlier told reporters as he met Burkinabe President Roch Kabore in Ouagadougou.

The French government identified the two soldiers killed as Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello.

Macron will lead a national tribute to the men, both officers in the naval special forces, at the Les Invalides military hospital and mausoleum in Paris on Tuesday.

Lassimouillas also expressed regret over the death of the Beninese park guide, who was shot dead when the two tourists were kidnapped.

Handout photo shows the two French special forces soldiers killed in a night-time rescue operation of four foreign hostages in Burkina Fasso
The two French special forces soldiers Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello who were killed in a night-time rescue of four foreign hostages including two French citizens in Burkina Fasso in an undated photo released by French Army on May 10, 2019. (Sirpa Marine/Handout via Reuters)

ISIS Insurgency

French officials said on Friday it was not yet clear who had kidnapped them in Benin but that their captors planned to hand them over to an al Qaeda affiliate in neighboring Mali.

Jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists have expanded their presence across West Africa’s Sahel region, a strip of scrubland beneath the Sahara desert, in recent years and taken a number of Western hostages.

A man signs condolence books in memory of Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory at Linselles' city hall, northern France
A man signs condolence books in memory of Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory (R), who were found dead, apparently executed by their kidnappers, after French special forces joined a failed attempt to rescue them in the African state of Niger, at Linselles’ city hall in northern France on Jan. 10, 2011. (Luc Moleux/Reuters)
A woman signs condolence books in memory of Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory at Linselles' city hall, northern France
A man signs condolence books in memory of Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory (R), who were found dead, apparently executed by their kidnappers, after French special forces joined a failed attempt to rescue them in the African state of Niger, at Linselles’ city hall in northern France on Jan. 10, 2011. (Luc Moleux/Reuters)

France, the former colonial power in the region, intervened in Mali in 2013 to halt an advance by Islamic terrorists and has kept about 4,500 troops in the Sahel since then.

“France’s message to terrorists is clear: those who want to attack France, the French, should know that we will hunt them, we will find them, and we will kill them,” Defence Minister Florence Parly said after joining Macron at the Villacoublay military airport outside Paris.

France was doing all it could to secure the release of another French hostage, Sophie Petronin, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. Gunmen kidnapped Petronin in December 2016 in the northern Malian city of Gao.

By Thiam Ndiaga and Richard Lough

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