French forces rescue American during raid to free tourists in Burkina Faso

Two French solders were killed in the raid.

May 11, 2019, 6:28 AM

French soldiers led a raid to rescue two tourists who had been kidnapped in the West African country of Burkina Faso, and ended up also freeing an American and a South Korean who they were unaware were being held.

Several U.S. officials told ABC News that the U.S. government was unaware until Friday that the American woman was being held.

The raid resulted in the death of two French soldiers.

The two former French hostages and Korean hostage were brought to the Presidential Palace of Kosyam in Ouagadougou at about 8:50 a.m. local time on Saturday.

French hostage Laurent Lassimouillas paid tribute to the French soldiers killed during the operation in a short statement, saying, "All our thoughts go to the families of the soldiers and the soldiers who lost their lives to free us from this hell, we wanted to offer our condolences right away."

The U.S. woman was not with the other three rescued hostages. Her name has not been released, but a U.S. official described her as being in her 60s.

U.S. forces were not involved in the raid, French defense officials said at a news conference in Paris, but did provide some intelligence support, which helped French forces locate the hostages and their kidnappers.

PHOTO: This photo provided Friday, May 10, 2019, by the French army shows navy soldiers Cedric de Pierrepont, left, and Alain Bertoncello.
This photo provided Friday, May 10, 2019, by the French army shows navy soldiers Cedric de Pierrepont, left, and Alain Bertoncello.
Marine Nationale

“It seems these two other hostages [the American and South Korean] had been held hostage for 28 days,” said Francois Lecointre, the chief of staff of the French armed forces.

French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said French authorities “don’t know much" about the American and South Korean women but that “they are in a safe place.”

Conversations with U.S. and South Korean officials appeared to confirm that neither country had known about the hostages, Parly said.

French officials didn’t share the American’s identity or provide any more information about her.

The spokesperson with the U.S. State Department confirmed that an American had been freed, but would not say if U.S. officials were aware, prior to the raid, that an American woman was being held hostage.

“We are grateful for the successful recovery of four hostages, including a U.S. citizen,” the spokesperson said. “We offer sincerest condolences to the families of the two French soldiers killed during the operation.”

The two French tourists had been on safari in the Pendjari National Park in Benin, near the Burkina Faso border, when they disappeared along with their tour guide on May 1. Three days later, the tour guide, identified as Fiacre Gbedji, was found dead in the park, according to Benin’s Ministry of Interior and Public Safety.

Al-Qaida and ISIS were known to operate in the area, officials said at the press conference, but they did not say that either of those groups, or any Islamist extremist groups, were involved.

The French soldiers who died have been identified as Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, and both were under the command of the special operations, the French president said in a statement.

ABC News' James Meek contributed to this report.

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