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Did Money on Mules Free French Hostages?

Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, the two French journalists that had been held hostage in Afghanistan for 547 days, landed on French soil on Thursday morning. Sources talk about the unusual path taken by the ransom.

Cityscape at sunrise, Kabul, Afghanistan
Stephane Victor | Getty Images
Cityscape at sunrise, Kabul, Afghanistan

Emotion, as well as champagne, flowed on Thursday morning after the two journalists reached French soil at the military airport of Villacoublay, West of Paris, and met with fellow journalists to describe their months of captivity in the Taliban-held Afghan region of Kapisa.

“Our lives have never been at threat, we were never physically harmed,” Stephane Taponier said at a press conference on the tarmac of the military base, “we would have been able to last even longer, we’re doing very well.”

Several attempts to free the French public television channel reporters have been aborted over the year-and-a-half long captivity in Taliban territory, Frederic Helbert, a source close to the DGSE - the French secret services – said on French television, but the latest one resulted in the two journalists reaching the French embassy in Kabul on Wednesday afternoon.

“(The Taliban's) main demand was the departure of all foreigners out of Afghanistan,” Taponier said.

The liberation of Ghesquiere and Taponier echoes the announcement by French president Nicolas Sarkozy last week that all French troops should be out of Afghanistan by 2014, following Barack Obama’s similar decision to repatriate all troops by September 2012.

The French ministry of defence’s press office declined any comment when reached by CNBC. “There is no link, at least official ones, between what you are talking about (the hostages’ liberation) and what you are referring to (the French troops exit),” a press officer told CNBC.

Frederic Helbert also said that there had been a ransom paid, and that the Afghan government had freed Taliban prisoners.

“There has been a ransom indeed,” he said. “The amount I was told from diplomatic sources is that of several million euros.”

The money was transported in local currency across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on the back of mules, Helbert said.

The French government also officially denied the existence of a ransom, but the French foreign affairs minister Alain Juppé explained during an interview with the French public television that the "reasons of state" justified the complete secrecy on the matter.

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