The Malian government reportedly said that it had exchanged four prisoners to secure the release of the last French hostage, Serge Lazarevic, held by the local arm of al Qaeda for the past three years.

Mahamane Baby, spokesperson for the Mali government, said Sunday, according to The Associated Press (AP), that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had asked for the release of six prisoners in exchange for Lazarevic, “but the government freed only four, including two Malians.” However, Reuters had reported last week, citing sources, that five prisoners had been exchanged in return for the French hostage.

While announcing Lazarevic’s release last week, French President Francois Hollande had not clarified whether his government had paid a ransom or exchanged prisoners to free him. Hollande had previously said that France does not conduct prisoner exchanges or pay ransom, but in September, he acknowledged that “other countries have done so, to help us.” 

Lazarevic had appeared in several AQIM videos, including one released in November. Following the video’s release, his daughter, Diane had reportedly urged the French government to take steps for his release.

"You have a choice between the policy of Mr. Obama, which appears to be not to negotiate and to see hostages killed, and a position of negotiating without admitting it," Alain Marsaud, a conservative French lawmaker, had told BFM TV, a French television network, last week, according to AP, adding: "It's true that we negotiate, we pay, and we try to get results .... There isn't a single Frenchman who believes Mr. Lazarevic was freed because Mr. Hollande has nice eyes."