French hostage says ordeal in Burkina Faso was ‘hell’

French hostage says ordeal in Burkina Faso was ‘hell’
Copyright 2019 CNN
Released Sahel hostages meet Burkina Faso President.

A French hostage in Burkina Faso, freed in an overnight rescue this week in which two soldiers were killed, described the experience as “hell.”

Laurent Lassimouillas was freed along with another Frenchman, an American woman and a South Korean woman in a French-led operation with the support of the US military. The rescue occurred between Thursday and Friday in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

“I want to thank French authorities and Burkina Faso ones,” Lassimouillas told reporters at the presidential palace in the capital of Ouagadougou before a meeting with Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Burkina Faso’s President.

“Our thoughts are for the families of the soldiers and the soldiers who lost their (lives) to free us from this hell,” he added, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Lassimouillas, his compatriot, Patrick Picque, and the South Korean landed safely Saturday at a French air force base outside Paris, where French President Emmanuel Macron greeted them. The former hostages will receive a full health examination.

The American woman was “directly collected by the Americans” in Burkina Faso, a press officer for France’s Élysée Palace told CNN.

The French citizens were kidnapped May 1 in the neighboring West African country of Benin, according to the Élysée Palace. Their safari guide was found dead in Pendjari National Park, and their vehicle was burned, Reuters reported.

Four terrorists were killed in the rescue operation, Florence Parly, the French minister for the armed forces, said Friday.

The minister said investigations were underway to identify the kidnappers, noting that networks affiliated with al Qaeda and ISIS are known to operate in the area.

The US military supported the French-led operation to free the four hostages, according to two US officials. One official said that the US support was in the form of overhead intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

French soldiers Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello were killed in the operation. The two will be honored in a national tribute Tuesday, Macron said.

“They gave their lives to release others,” the French leader wrote on Twitter. “From now on, let us carry our thoughts to their families and brothers of arms.”

CNN’s Antoine Crouin reported from Paris, while Rob Picheta wrote in London. CNN’s Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report.