GEORGE EMMANUEL/AFP/Getty Images
Former French hostage Francis Collomp (second right), who escaped his captors during a Nigerian army operation against Islamist group Boko Haram on Sunday is pictured in Kaduna, Nigeria, a few hours after his release. Collomp, whose release was announced Sunday, fled during an exchange of fire between the army and Boko Haram after his cell door was left open, the source said.
LAGOS, Nigeria — Rebels are claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and release for ransom of two American sailors off the coast of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
A statement purporting to come from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said Sunday that it received $ 2-million ransom for the sailors, mostly from Nigerian authorities.
U.S. officials had identified the mariners as the captain and chief engineer of the U.S.-flagged C-Retriever offshore supply vessel taken in an Oct. 23 attack.
Analysts believe the militant group has lost much of its operational capability, but oil pipeline attacks and kidnappings are still common in the Niger Delta.
Almost all foreigners kidnapped are released once ransoms are paid.
A French engineer kidnapped in northern Nigeria 11 months ago escaped on a motorcycle without paying ransom and will fly back to France on Sunday, police said.
Francis Collomp escaped from his abductors in Zaria, in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, and went to the nearest police station, said Kaduna State Police Commissioner Olufemi Adenaike. Police identified no suspects, but the Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru had claimed responsibility for his kidnapping.
Some 30 men stormed Collomp’s home on Dec. 19, 2012 – his 63rd birthday – and took him prisoner, killing a neighbor and a security guard in the attack.
Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of another French national, a priest who was abducted in Cameroon on Wednesday and taken to Nigeria.
French President Francois Hollande said he was sending his foreign minister to Nigeria immediately to greet Collomp “who freed himself.”
“We’re happy for Francis Collomp, but we do not forget the other hostages,” Hollande said in a news conference in Jerusalem. The president said a total of seven French citizens are being held in Nigeria, Syria and Mali.
Last week, the U.S. labeled Boko Haram and Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations. On Saturday, Nigerian security forces raided a Boko Haram stronghold in the state of Borno, claiming 20 militants were killed in the firefight.