French former hostage Serge Lazarevic has arrived back on home soil – his nightmare over after three years of captivity in the hands of al Qaeda’s North African wing.
His loved ones joined Francois Hollande on the tarmac of a military airport outside Paris – the President warning French citizens not to go to places where they risk being seized.
“It’s a joy for the French people, because now there are no French hostages anywhere in the world, even though we don’t forget all the other foreign hostages,” Hollande said.
Lazarevic was flanked by the son of another Frenchman seized alongside him in northern Mali. Philippe Verdon was killed by his captors last year.
“Life is beautiful when you get your freedom back,” said Lazarevic, 50, who has told reporters that he lost 20 kilos in captivity.
“I didn’t really know before what freedom was. I had forgotten what freedom was. And never forget that being free means looking after yourself wherever you go, as the president said. Be careful because freedom is the most precious thing of all. When you are abducted, when you are mistreated, when you are lost, when you are on the brink of death, you think about life more.”
But amid celebrations for Lazarevic’s family and President Hollande, for whom the freeing of France’s last hostage is a major boost, questions linger over whether a reported prisoner exchange and a possible ransom payment led to this liberation.