Kidnapped Spanish aid worker is released

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Spanish aid worker kidnapped in Mauritania last year has been released, according to the Spanish government. Alicia Gamez, 39, was abducted on 29 November along with two other Spanish aid workers—both men—who are still being held. A North African branch of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said in a press conference on Wednesday that Gamez was "safe and sound" and on her way to Barcelona.

Map of Mauritania showing Nouakchott and Nouadhibou

According to Fernández de la Vega, no ransom had been paid for Gamez's release; she stated that it was a result of work done by Spain's diplomats and intelligence services. She also expressed thanks for the "collaboration given by other countries". She said that the Spanish government would continue efforts to see the release of the other aid workers, Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta, who are reported to be "healthy, nervous and eager to be released soon".

The three Spanish aid workers had been in Mauritania, working for the Barcelona Solidarity Action organisation. They were kidnapped at gunpoint while delivering relief to villages between the cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. They had become separated from their convoy, approximately 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of the capital city Nouakchott. Vilalta was wounded by a gunshot to the leg but was treated for his injury. In early December, the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility. The hostages were believed to have been taken to Mali.

The al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb also claimed responsibility for the abduction in December of an Italian couple in Mauritania. Sergio Cicala, 65, and Philomene Kaboure, 39, were also apparently taken to Mali. Early reports indicated that Kaboure may have been released alongside Alicia Gamez, but these have been unconfirmed and now look doubtful.

A Frenchman, Pierre Camatte, captured in Mali in November by the same group was released last month, following a controversial decision to release four militants from a Malian jail. In the case of the Spanish aid workers, there have been reports that the kidnappers are demanding similar releases of detainees from Spanish custody, as well as a ransom. Spain currently holds dozens of convicted or suspected Islamic militants, including those convicted for the 2004 Madrid train bombings.