Two Austrians kidnapped by al Qaeda's North African wing and held for 8 months in the Sahara Desert have been freed and are now in the hands of Malian authorities, the Austrian and Malian governments said Friday.
Two Austrian hostages snatched by Al-Qaeda's north African offshoot in the Tunisian desert in February have been freed, the foreign ministry said Friday.
Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik "informed the public today that Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber, who were kidnapped on February 22, are free," the ministry said in a statement.
Confirmation of the releases came shortly after a source in the Malian presidency said the pair had been freed and were in the hands of Mali's army.
"Special envoy Anton Prohaska informed me today that Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber were freed last night by their kidnappers after 252 days (in captivity)," Plassnik said.
"The two are currently under the protection of the Malian army and are en route to Bamako, where they'll be transferred to the care of the Austrian team."
According to the Mali said, the two were "in good health" considering they had been held for eight months, the statement continued.
"I've alread spoken personally to their families in Salzburg and informed them of this happy turn of events. Along with the families, I'm happy these long weeks of worry and uncertainty are now at an end."
Ebner, 51, and his companion Kloiber, 44, went missing in Tunisia on February 22, with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb claiming responsibility for their abduction on March 10.
The kidnappers initially demanded the release of a number of Islamic extremists imprisoned in Algeria and Tunisia. They subsequently demanded a five million euro ransom (6.4 million dollars) according to unconfirmed press reports.
Vienna, which was being helped by Bamako in its negotiations with intermediaries to obtain their release, has consistently refused to comment on the kidnappers' demands or ultimatums.
"It's now a matter of organising their rapid and safe return to Austria," Plassnik nsaid.
An Austrian plane would be sent to Bamako in the next few hours to bring the two home.
Date created : 2008-10-31