Official: 3 Spanish hostages being taken to Mali

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2009 5:38 AM

Three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in the West African desert nation of Mauritania are being taken by their captors to neighboring Mali, a Mauritanian official said Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the subject, said the hostages were headed to a camp run by al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb.

While there have been no official claims of responsibility for Sunday's abductions, Spanish officials have said they fear the hostages were taken by al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb. The group operates mainly in Algeria but is suspected of crossing the country's porous desert borders to spread violence in the rest of northwestern Africa.

Army teams and planes have been searching for the three hostages, who were seized after their vehicle became separated from an aid convoy. The group was attacked while delivering supplies to impoverished villages along a 240-mile (400-kilometer) road that links the capital, Nouakchott, to Nouadhibou to the north.

The Barcelona-based aid group Barcelona Accion Solidaria has identified the missing aid workers as Albert Vilalta, Roque Pascual and Alicia Gamez

Mauritania, once known as a predominantly moderate Muslim nation on Africa's western coast, has been rocked by attacks by the North African al-Qaida group.

In June, American Christopher Leggett, 39, was fatally shot in the Mauritanian capital, not far from a school that he helped run. The North African al-Qaida group claimed responsibility, saying they killed the Tennessee native because he allegedly was trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the group also has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two U.N. staffers in December, and the kidnapping of four European tourists a month later. One of the four Europeans, a Briton, was killed by his captors. The U.N. staffers and the other tourists were released.