French commandos rescue 4 hostages in Burkina Faso
The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while looking for elephants and lions in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1. The pair’s guide was later found shot dead.
The French squad were surprised to discover two women also in captivity who had reportedly been held for 28 days.
The French tourists were named as Patrick Picque, 51, a jeweller, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, a piano teacher.
No one, including Seoul and Washington, was aware of the women’s presence, French Defence Minister Florence Parly told the media.
The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron as the hostages risked being transferred to lawless Mali to the north.
Four “terrorists” also were killed during the pre-dawn operation, Parly said. “Terrorists who attack France and the French must know that we will spare no effort to track them down and fight them,” she added.
It was “an operation of rare difficulty” that grew more complex with the discovery of the US and South Korean hostages being held with the French pair, Parly said.
She said the four freed hostages were now safe.
The Hubert Commando was formed by the Free French naval force under General Charles de Gaulle in wartime Britain to operate in occupied France. The unit was named after Lieutenant Augustin Hubert, who died in the 1944 D-Day landings.
Regarded as the toughest of the French special forces, the commandos were deployed in operations, including the rescue of foreigners during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The two NCOs who died during the operation were named as Petty Officer De Pierrepont, who saw action over 15 years of service, and Petty Officer Bertoncello, who had spent seven years in the force. Both had operated throughout the region.
The French hostages had ignored warnings not to visit the area of Benin where they were kidnapped.
The minister thanked the US for “their precious support”.
The commandos in Taskforce Sabre are part of nearly 5,000 French personnel taking part in Operation Barkhane in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. They have been supporting government forces in the former French colonies against Islamists since President Francois Hollande launched the operation in 2013 in the north of Mali. Twenty-four French personnel have been killed since.
Islamists have increased the number of attacks this year in Burkina Faso with so-called Islamic State keen to show that while it no longer controls territory in Syria and Iraq, it is still a threat.
US special forces equipped with helicopters and drones are also in the region.
Burkina Faso is increasingly lawless. Picture credit: IHA