Spain: Aid worker kidnapped by Islamic militants in Africa freed, but 2 others still held

By Daniel Woolls, AP
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spain: Aid worker in Africa released by militants

BARCELONA, Spain — A Spanish aid worker who spent 100 days as a hostage of al-Qaida’s North African offshoot arrived home tired and grateful after being released Wednesday, and said she hopes two colleagues abducted with her in Mauritania will follow her soon.

Alicia Gamez, 35, was greeted with hugs and kisses from relatives and associates from the aid group she works for as she stepped off the Spanish air force plane that flew her home from Africa. Still back in the desert in Mali are here colleagues Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta.

“I am very happy to be back home and my happiness will be complete when Albert and Roque come back,” Gamez, who wore a pink T-shirt, gray sweater and tennis shoes, said in a short arrival statement.

Her release was announced earlier in the day by Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, who said no ransom had been paid.

Gamez and her two colleagues worked as volunteers for an aid group called Barcelona Accion Solidaria. They were kidnapped by gunmen Nov. 29 while delivering relief material to poor villages. Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility, and Spain said it believed the claim was credible.

“We were treated well, with respect, and they looked after us well, given the tough constraints of life in the desert,” Gamez said. “Now what I want is to rest, and above all be with my family.”

Fernandez de la Vega said the government is now concentrating on winning the release of the two remaining hostages.

Asked why Gamez was released and the others were not, the deputy premier said, “That happens sometimes with this kind of kidnapping. There is no objective reason.”

The official praised the Spanish intelligence and diplomatic services and expressed gratitude for “the collaboration given by other countries,” which she did not name. Gamez and the other two Spaniards were reportedly taken to Mali after the kidnapping, and its government is believed to have helped in negotiations with the captors.

An Italian couple also was kidnapped in Mauritania in December and the al-Qaida offshoot claimed responsibility. Spanish media said the wife in that pair, Philopene Kabore, was to have been released with Gamez on Wednesday. But Fernandez de la Vega said she could not speak for the Italian case.

Last month a Frenchman held captive in Mali for three months by Al-Qaida’s North Africa offshoot was freed. That followed a contested court decision ordering a jail release for four suspected members of the militant group that abducted him.

In the Spanish case, news outlets have reported that the captors were demanding a ransom and the release of colleagues imprisoned in Mauritania.

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