Al-Qaida in N. Africa says it freed Spanish hostage after she voluntarily converted to Islam

Friday, March 12, 2010

Al-Qaida: Freed Spanish hostage converted to Islam

CAIRO — Al-Qaida’s offshoot in North Africa said Friday it released a Spanish woman it had held captive for 100 days in Mauritania because she voluntarily converted to Islam.

In a statement posted on militant Web sites, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said it also took into account health reasons in choosing to free aid worker Alicia Gamez, although it did not elaborate.

“The Spanish woman converted to Islam voluntarily after the mujahidin (fighters) exposed her to Islam and its teachings. She took the name of Aicha,” the brief message said.

Gamez, 35, and two male colleagues still being held captive by the group worked as volunteers for an aid organization called Barcelona Accion Solidaria. They were kidnapped by gunmen Nov. 29 while delivering relief material to poor villages in Mauritania.

A photo with Friday’s statement showed three armed men standing behind Gamez and the other hostages. Gamez appears in the photo wearing a head scarf.

She was released Wednesday and arrived home on the same day where she was greeted by family and friends as she stepped off the Spanish air force plane that flew her home from Africa.

News outlets have reported that the captors were demanding a ransom and the release of colleagues imprisoned in Mauritania. Spain’s deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, said Wednesday that no ransom had been paid.

“We tell the Spanish government that this positive step on the behalf of the mujahidin requires that you swiftly respond to our legitimate demands,” the Internet statement said. “This is a precondition for the safety of your other citizens.”

Al-Qaida’s offshoot in North Africa, which formed three years ago, remains small and largely isolated, numbering a couple hundred militants based mostly in the vast desert of northern Mali. So far, the group has not moved beyond kidnappings to push al-Qaida’s global jihad aims, but U.S. officials warn it is growing more active and attracting new recruits.

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