Four Frenchmen held hostage in the Sahara desert by al Qaeda-linked gunmen for three years left Niger on a French government plane on Wednesday (October 30) morning. They are expected to be greeted by Mr Hollande in Paris.

The French defence minister said the four men were freed without a military assault or a ransom being paid.

They were seized on 16 September 2010 in raids targeting two French firms operating a uranium mine near Arlit.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who went to Niamey with Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian praised the men's resillience.

Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol and Marc Feret were kidnapped by AQIM in September 2010 while working for French nuclear group Areva and a subsidiary of construction group Vinci in Arlit in Niger.

Any conditions of the release were not immediately clear, but, speaking to French television on Tuesday (October 29) on his arrival in Niamey to collect the men and take them home, Fabius denied the government had paid a ransom.

Presented by Adam Justice