Release of aid workers 'very good news' - Zapatero

23rd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero confirmed the release on Monday of two Spanish aid workers kidnapped by Al-Qaeda's North African branch, describing it as "very good news."

"Albert Vilalta and Roque Pasqual are free. They have been freed after spending 268 days in the hands of their kidnappers," Zapatero said in a brief televised statement.

"It has been nine months of suffering for them and their families, days of concern and activity by the government, which stepped up the activities of its political, diplomatic and intelligence services to secure their release."

Vilalta, 35, and Pascual, 50, who worked for Catalan aid group Accio Solidaria, were kidnapped north of the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on November 29, along with a third Spaniard, 39-year-old Alicia Gamez.

They were handed over to the North African branch of Osama bin Laden's terror network, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who held them in Mali.

The AQIM freed Gamez in March.

The release is "very good news" and "puts an end to a terrorist action which should never have happened," Zapatero said.

He said the two are to arrive in Barcelona late on Monday on a special flight accompanied by close relatives and Secretary of State for Cooperation Soraya Rodriguez.

The release comes after the August 16 transfer from Mauritania to Mali of the kidnap mastermind, Malian national Omar Sid'Ahmed Ould Hamma, who was jailed for 12 years by a Mauritanian court.

Spanish daily El Mundo reported on Monday that the release was due to the transfer of Hamma, and the Spanish government paying a ransom of 3.8 million euros (4.8 million dollars)

Zapatero made no mention of any ransom in his statement, in which he "thanked the various governments for their cooperation, especially the governments in the zone in which the kidnapping happened."

© 2010 AFP

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