Four aid workers end long hostage ordeal in Somalia
After being held hostage for nine months, the two French women, a Belgian and a Bulgarian boarded a plane and were flown out of Somalia.
Somali gunmen seized the four aid workers last November along with two Kenyan pilots who were accompanying them to an area bordering Ethiopia.
Witnesses said that the aid workers were being escorted by five or six security guards as they tried to board a plane chartered by the European Commission but they were easily overpowered by about 20 heavily armed men.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was pleased and relieved by the news and offered “his warmest congratulations to all those whose involvement brought an end to the hostage-taking," a statement said.
There was no immediate information on the circumstances of the hostages' release.
The release of the aid workers came as France was grappling with a separate hostage case involving two French intelligence agents seized last month from their hotel room in Mogadishu. The Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired militia, said last month that the two men would be tried under Sharia law, for "spying and entering Somalia to assist the enemy of Allah."
Armed Somali gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, often targeting foreigners or Somalis working with international organisations to demand ransoms.
The relentless violence and insecurity have made Somalia one of the most dangerous places in the world for foreign workers.
Charity ACF (Action Against Hunger), who the recently liberated hostages were working for, has been doing relief work in Somalia since 1992, carrying out health and water sanitation projects throughout Somalia.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when the expulsion of former president Mohamad Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle.