Embassy official: 2 Spanish hostages freed in Mali, en route to Burkina Faso

By Martin Vogl, AP
Monday, August 23, 2010

Embassy official: 2 Spanish hostages freed

BAMAKO, Mali — Two Spanish aid workers kidnapped almost nine months ago by an al-Qaida affiliate have been set free and were en route Monday to the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, according to a diplomatic source.

The two were due to arrive in Ouagadougou by mid-afternoon and will then continue on to Spain, said the official at a Western embassy who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

“They are free,” he said. “It’s done.”

Aid workers Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta were kidnapped when their convoy of SUVs was attacked in Mauritania on Nov. 29 while they were delivering supplies to poor villagers. Along with a third colleague, Alicia Gamez, they were taken to northern Mali, a remote desert area which has become one of the operating bases for al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. Gamez was released in March.

Not long after the kidnapping, Mauritanian commandos led a raid in northern Mali where they seized Malian national Omar Ould Sid Ahmed Ould Hama, who goes by the alias Omar Sahraoui. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Mauritanian judge for the kidnapping of the three aid workers.

The embassy official said AQIM had demanded Sahraoui in return for the two aid workers. Sahraoui was extradited to Mali on Aug. 15.

Vilalta is believed to have suffered gunshot wounds to the leg while trying to elude capture on the day of the kidnapping.

Mauritania, on Africa’s western coast, has been rocked by attacks by the radical Islamic group which has spread its tentacles across the vast desert encompassing swaths of Mali, Niger and Algeria. The terror group appears to be financing itself through a ‘kidnap economy’ and in recent years they have abducted Austrian, Swiss, Italian, French and Canadian nationals.

Ahmed Mohamed contributed to this report from Nouakchott, Mauritania.

will not be displayed