Spaniards freed by terrorists in Mali after nine months
Aid workers were snatched in Western Sahara refugee camp by Al Qaeda-linked group
Two Spanish aid workers who were kidnapped last October in the Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria, have been released in Mali.
Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón and Enric Gonyalons were abducted by the terrorist group MUJAO (which has ties to Al Qaeda). Another radical Islamist group that controls much of northern Mali, Ansar al Din, announced the release on Wednesday.
Spain was due to send an airplane to take both aid workers home, according to the news agency Europa Press, which quoted government sources.
The Islamists said they had also freed an Italian aid worker, Rosella Urru, although the Italian Foreign Ministry did not confirm it.
All three were kidnapped on the night of October 22, 2011 inside the Western Sahara refugee camp of Rabuni, in the Algerian desert, where they were providing assistance to refugees.
“They told us that all three hostages had been released in the region of Gao [northeastern Mali],” Sanda Ould Boumama, spokesman for Ansar al Din, told Reuters. Boumama added that he believed the aid workers were currently with mediators from Burkina Faso, the country that most commonly plays a mediating role in kidnapping cases.
A spokesman for the non-profit organization Mundabat, which Eric Gonyalons worked with, said that the chances of release were good after a negotiation carried out last week in Burkina Faso, but that they’d preferred not to get their hopes up because in other cases there had been last-minute problems that halted the prisoner release.
Last December, the Spanish and the Italian governments received evidence that the hostages were alive in the form of a video recording of one minute and 23 seconds in which each aid worker spoke in his or her own language, stating who they worked for and asking the corresponding authorities to make all necessary efforts for their release.
It was the first time that a terrorist group had claimed a kidnapping by sending a note in French and Arabic to the Agence France Presse office in Bamako (Mali).
Two other Spanish aid workers remain hostage: Blanca Thiebaut and Montserrat Serra, of Doctors Without Borders, who were kidnapped on October 13 at the refugee camp of Ifo, in Dadaab (Kenya).