Le Pen provokes outrage over comments on freed hostages

National Front leader appears to suggest four French hostages were ‘turned’ by kidnappers


French National Front leader Marine Le Pen provoked an uproar yesterday when she appeared to suggest that four French hostages who were freed on Tuesday had been “turned” by their Muslim African kidnappers.

Ms Le Pen told Europe 1 radio station she felt “uneasy” watching the arrival of the hostages at a French military base on Wednesday because they wore beards and chèches (desert headscarves).

“These images left me dubious, I tell you sincerely,” Ms Le Pen said. “I found their extreme reserve surprising, their clothing surprising. I felt uneasy seeing those images and I don’t think I was the only one . . . Two wore beards trimmed in a surprising way . . . And that hostage with the chèche on his face; that might be worth some explanation on their part.”

Socialist and conservative UMP politicians were unanimous in condemning Ms Le Pen’s comments. Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud Belkacem denounced “the incredible indecency of Marine Le Pen.” Socialist deputy Yann Galut accused Le Pen of “going paranoid over the hostages”. Her remarks were, he said, “the extension of her way of thinking, of seeing Islamisation everywhere”.

On the right, the UMP senator Roger Karoutchi tweeted: “37 months held in the desert, Marine Le Pen expected the hostages to come back well-shaven in three-piece suits.”

After back-pedalling gradually through the day, Ms Le Pen eventually issued a communique saying she had not criticised the hostages but their “political instrumentalisation” by the government and had “expressed myself clumsily”.

The mother of one of the hostages said they wore beards and scarves out of solidarity with three French hostages who remain held in the region.

Since the hostages’ release, controversy continues to dog the government over whether France paid €20 million in ransom and granted impunity to the leader of Ansar Eddine, the group that held them, as reported by AFP and Le Monde.

“The more you pay ransom, the more bankable your compatriots are, the more they are a choice target for fundamentalist groups . . . That’s why our compatriots are the ones who are kidnapped most often,” Ms Le Pen said.

Like Le Figaro newspaper, she argued that France should follow Britain’s example and let hostages be killed rather than pay for them.

Le Monde recounted in detail an operation that recovered the hostages using €20 million from the French intelligence service’s secret slush fund.

Foreign minister Laurent Fabius seemed to accredit a theory that it was the hostages’ employer, the nuclear power company Areva, who paid the ransom. Mr Fabius said no public money had been spent for their liberation.