PARIS — Four Frenchmen taken hostage by Al Qaeda extremists in Niger have been released after three years of captivity and a French-led military intervention in the region that weakened the Islamic radicals.
President Francois Hollande of France announced the release Tuesday and credited President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who later appeared on television with the hostages. The men, who worked for the Areva nuclear company when taken, had long beards and some wore turbans and brown robes. They did not speak.
Niger’s foreign affairs minister, Mohamed Bazoum, said that the hostages — Pierre Legrand, Thierry Dol, Marc Feret, and Daniel Larribe — were freed in neighboring
Mali and taken to Niamey, Niger’s capital.
Officials gave few details on the release, but the French defense minister said that there was no assault and that France did not pay a ransom. ‘‘There was an initiative taken by the network’’ of the Niger president ‘‘which allowed the liberation without a clash,’’ Jean-Yves Le Drian told France’s TF 1 television.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France and Le Drian traveled to Niamey to bring the four Frenchmen home.
Speaking from there on French TV, Fabius said the freed captives are ‘‘in good shape’’ now that ‘‘the nightmare is over.’’