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Al-Qaida Group Frees 2 Spanish Hostages


Two aid workers freed after being held hostage for months by al-Qaida's North African wing have arrived in Burkina Faso's capital.

Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta were taken from a remote hideout in Mali to Ouagadougou on Monday afternoon in a Burkinabe helicopter, where they were met by Spanish officials.

They are expected to arrive Monday night Barcelona in a special flight arranged by Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero celebrated the release of the hostages at a news conference earlier Monday. He said the men were safe after "268 days in the hands of their kidnappers," putting an end to a "terrorist act that should never have occurred."

On Sunday, Al-Arabiya television said the release was linked to Mauritania's extradition of an Islamist militant to Mali last week.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb kidnapped Pascual, Vilalta and a female co-worker last November. The woman, Alicia Gamez, was freed in March. All three work for the Spanish aid group Solidarity Action.

The militant, Omar Sid'Ahmed Ould Hamma, was convicted in July of organizing the kidnapping of the Spanish aid workers and handing them over to al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks and kidnappings across Africa's Sahel region over the past few years. It killed a French hostage, Michel Germanau, last month and a British hostage, Edwin Dyer, last year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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