Militants thought to belong to al Qaeda's North African branch have released a Spanish woman held hostage in Mali. An Italian female hostage has also been released, according to unconfirmed reports.
AFP - Islamist militants freed a Spanish aid worker and an Italian woman Wednesday who were being taken to Burkina Faso from Mali where kidnappers held them since November, a Malian negotiator said.
"The news is good. As we speak the two women are on their way to Burkina," the negotiator said.
Spanish hostage held in Mali freed
An anti-terrorist source in Madrid said earlier Wednesday that Alicia Gamez, 39, one of three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Mauritania by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in November, was "being freed".
"She is being taken to a safe place," the source said.
Italian national Philomene Kaboure, 39, of Burkina Faso descent, initially refused to to be freed, preferring to remain behind with her Italian husband Sergio Cicala, 65, sources close to the negotiation process said.
Though, the government was unable to confirm a report by Italy's Ansa news agency that an Italian woman was freed at the same time as Spaniard Alicia Gamez.
The couple was kidnapped on December 18, also in Mauritania.
Spanish vice-president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega confirmed she had gone to Barcelona Tuesday to speak with the families of the three aid workers about possible developments to come in the hostage situation.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called early Wednesday for prudence but said that "things are going in the right direction."
The Spanish press reported several weeks ago that AQIM had demanded a ransom for the release of the three aid workers for a Barcelona aid group, who were kidnapped in Mauritania on November 29.
Spanish daily El Mundo said Madrid was in the process of paying a five million dollar (3.7 million euro) ransom in exchange for the hostages.
However on March 1 a Malian negotiator said the case "had reached a standstill".
AQIM had previously demanded the release of Mauritanian prisoners for the safety and freedom of the Italian couple, giving a deadline of March 1, which has passed with no news.
The threat posed by terrorist groups in the Sahel is being taken very seriously after the death of British tourist Edwin Dyer in June 2009, killed by AQIM after six months in captivity when London refused to yield to blackmail by the Islamist combatants.
Date created : 2010-03-10