Mali Islamists release Spanish, Italian hostages


An al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group based in northern Mali said Wednesday it had freed two Spanish and one Italian hostage kidnapped in western Algeria in October 2011.

“Consider them freed, because our conditions were respected,” said Mohammed Ould Hicham, a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) told AFP.

He said a ransom had been paid, referring to it as “debt” but would not be drawn on the amount.

Hicham also said the hostages -- an Italian woman, a Spanish woman and a Spanish man -- had been freed in a “Muslim country” but would not say which one.

In Madrid a spokesman for the foreign minister said: “The liberation process is almost finished, it was delayed by a sandstorm... A plane was sent to bring home the two Spaniards.”

All three aid workers, the hostages were taken from a Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria. The previously unknown group MUJAO claimed responsibility, presenting themselves as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

In May, MUJAO demanded the release of two Sahrawis arrested by Mauritania for their role in the kidnapping, as well as 30 million euros ($40 million) in ransom.

They also threatened to kill the Spanish man if their demands were not met.

In Nouakchott, online news agency Alakhbar reported that among the Islamist prisoners exchanged for the hostages was a Sahrawi called Memine Ould Oufkir, one of those arrested in the wake of the kidnapping.