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Freed Spanish Hostages Return to Barcelona

Two Spanish aid workers have returned to Barcelona after being released by affiliates of the al-Qaida terrorist network who kidnapped them in Mauritania last November.

Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual returned to Barcelona, waving to friends and supporters following their release by the group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Vilalta used a crutch to help him walk after he was shot in the leg when he tried to escape during their capture nine months ago. Pascual said he will spend the rest of his life trying to make up to his family what he has put them through.

Both men thanked the Spanish government for securing their release. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says it brings to an end an act of terrorism that never should have happened.

The prime minister says Vilalta and Pascual are free after 268 days in the hands of their kidnappers - nearly nine months of suffering for them and their families. Mr. Zapatero says the Spanish government increased its political and diplomatic activity alongside its intelligence services to secure their liberation.

The men were kidnapped outside the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, along with another Spaniard who was freed in March. Their release was cheered by members of the aid group that sponsored the relief convoy from which they were abducted.

Francesc Osan is the director of the aid group Accio Solidaria.

He says the aid group is very happy and will celebrate with champagne. After nine months, Osan says it is really a reason for happiness. It is something they have been waiting to hear for a long time that has finally come true.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb says it targeted Spain because it is an ally of the United States and is part of the NATO alliance. The group is behind a series of bombings and kidnappings across the Sahel. It says it killed a French hostage in Mali last month after a failed cross-border raid by French and Mauritanian troops. The group killed a British hostage and an American aid worker last year.

The Spanish government did not discuss the conditions of this release and refused to comment on reports that it paid a ransom. The release comes just days after Mauritania extradited a Malian who was sentenced for his role in their kidnapping. That extradition is something the terrorists had reportedly demanded.