Mauritania drops calls for life sentence in kidnap trial

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Mauritanian prosecutors dropped calls on Wednesday for a court to impose life sentences on the alleged kidnappers of three Spanish aid workers.

The prosecution said it would instead seek a jail sentence of between five and 20 years for Malian national, Omar Sid'Ahmed Ould Hamma, and his three co-accused.

It said this was because Hamma, believed to be a ring-leader who actively took part in the November 2009 kidnappings, was "no longer physically detaining the hostages."

The four are charged with abducting the three Spaniards in Mauritania before being paid to hand them over to Al-Qaeda militants in northern Mali.

Two of the hostages, Albert Vilalta, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, are still in the hands of the Islamist group, along with an Italian couple kidnapped in December.

A female colleague, Alicia Gamez, 39, was released in March after three months in captivity.

Hamma, who with the other accused denies the charges, was arrested in February in an operation by Mauritanian security forces on the border with Mali.

The kidnappers have demanded payment of several million dollars in ransom and the release of Islamist prisoners held in Mauritania, which along with neighbouring desert states Mali and Niger has witnessed a rise in terrorism-related kidnappings of westerners.

© 2010 AFP

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