Spanish aid organization confirms release of its 2 workers kidnapped in Mauritania

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spanish NGO: kidnapped aid workers free

MADRID — A Spanish relief organization has confirmed that two of its workers kidnapped in Mauritania in November have been released.

Francesco Osan of the group Barcelona Accio Solidaria says it got confirmation of the release from Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega.

Osan told a news conference Monday that the two aid workers will arrive back in Spain on Monday night.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — 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, a Spanish official and a diplomatic source said.

The release happened just days after a Malian who was sentenced in Mauritainia for the kidnapping was extradited back to his home country. Al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, had demanded his return as a condition for the release of the two aid workers.

The two were due to arrive in Ouagadougou by mid-afternoon and were 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.”

In Madrid, an official in Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s office confirmed the release and said they are now in safe hands. The official gave no other details. Zapatero was scheduled to address reporters shortly.

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. They and a third colleague, Alicia Gamez, were taken to northern Mali, a remote desert area which has become one of the operating bases for AQIM. Gamez was released in March.

The non-governmental organization Barcelona Solidarity Action for whom the two work said it was treating the reports of the hostages’ release with guarded optimism until they are confirmed by the government.

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 kidnappings.

The embassy official said AQIM had demanded Sahraoui’s return as a condition of the release of the aid workers. He 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.

Associated Press writers Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania contributed to this report.

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