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August 22, 2010

Al-Qaida Group Frees 2 Spanish Hostages

The Spanish government says two aid workers kidnapped by an al-Qaida group in Mauritania last year have been freed.  A government spokesman Monday confirmed the release of Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta, and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero later made a statement during a brief press conference in Madrid.

Media reports earlier said Pascual and Vilalta were being taken from a remote hideout in Mali to Burkina Faso, where Spanish officials were waiting to pick them up.

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.

On Sunday, Al-Arabiya television said the release was linked to Mauritania extraditing an Islamist militant to Mali last week.  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 and Reuters.