Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Freed French hostage speaks of al-Qaeda ordeal in Mali

Pierre Camatte at Villacoublay military airport, near Paris, 25 February
Pierre Camatte spent three months in captivity

A French aid worker who was held by al-Qaeda's North African wing in Mali says he was beaten and that his captors tried to convert him to Islam.

Pierre Camatte, 61, was released on Tuesday in a prisoner swap after three months in captivity. He made the comments after arriving on French soil.

"They tried time and time again to convert me. They want to Islamise the whole world in their own way," he said.

Mr Camatte, who spent 15 years in Mali, called his captors "dangerous fools".

The Frenchman was abducted from a hotel near the border with Niger on 25 November and handed over to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of the militant movement.

Mr Camatte said his kidnappers "beat him up" when he tried to resist.

Ransom denied

"They are fanatics, dangerous fools. They are certain that they hold the truth. And they want, through coercion, to make the world admit their vision," he told reporters at Paris's military airport.

The group is also believed to be holding three Spanish hostages and an Italian couple.

Mr Camatte was freed in exchange for four Islamist prisoners held by Mali - a move that angered Algeria and Mauritania.

On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Mr Camatte in the Malian capital Bamako and promised support for Mali's fight against terrorism.

France has denied paying a ransom for Mr Camatte's release.

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