BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -A French engineer taken hostage in Iraq last month was pushed out of a car near a checkpoint in a Baghdad suburb, apparently freed by nervous captors who then fled, Iraqi police said Sunday.
Bernard Planche was found Saturday night near the checkpoint in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib suburb, said Maj. Falah al-Mohammadawi.
France’s presidential Elysee Palace said Planche would be received by its embassy in Baghdad and return to his home country.
French President Jacques Chirac “is delighted by the happy outcome,” the palace said. The president personally gave the news to Planche’s daughter, Isabelle, and to his brother, Gilles.
Planche, who worked for a non-governmental organization called AACCESS, was kidnapped Dec. 5 on his way to work at a Baghdad water plant. Militants later released a video of him sitting between two armed men.
Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, which broadcast an excerpt of the video, said the militants denounced the “illegal French presence” in Iraq and demanded the withdrawal of French troops from the country. France has not sent forces to Iraq.
The name of a previously unknown militant group, called “Monitoring For Iraq,” was shown in the corner of the footage.
Planche’s daughter and brother last month had pleaded for his release in an interview on Al-Arabiya.
“He came to help the reconstruction for the Iraqi people. We have faith and are sure that you won’t hurt him,” his daughter Isabelle said.
Insurgents have kidnapped more than 250 foreigners in the past two years, aiming to force U.S.-led troops to leave Iraq or prevent Arab nations from strengthening their ties with the Baghdad government.
Some of the hostages have been killed, while others were released after ransoms were paid or freed after Muslim clerics called the armed groups to release them.
On Dec. 8, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have killed U.S. electrician Ronald Schulz. Other groups are holding four Christian humanitarian workers — two Canadians, a Briton and an American.
No news has emerged about the fate of those men since a group claiming responsibility for their capture imposed a Dec. 10 deadline for their killings. The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade had threatened to kill the group if the United States and Britain did not release all detainees in Iraq.
Briton Norman Kember, 74, Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and American Tom Fox, 54, were abducted in Baghdad on Nov. 26. All four were working in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Canadian-based organization that has investigated allegations of abuse against Iraqi prisoners.