MADRID (AP) — Spain says it is repatriating all of its aid workers and three other foreign nationals from refugee camps in Tindouf in western Algeria out of fears for their security.
Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Saturday that the decision had been taken after reviewing "well-founded evidence of a serious increase in insecurity in the region."
He said 12 Spaniards, two French nationals and an Italian will arrive in the Spanish capital, Madrid, by military aircraft early Sunday. A Spanish and a Peruvian aid worker have already returned to Spain.
Garcia-Margallo said the Spanish plane left Torrejon air base in Madrid on Saturday to collect the workers.
Ten days ago Islamist rebels in Mali belonging to the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO by its French acronym, released three aid workers — Spaniards Enric Gonyalons and Ainhoa Fernandez del Rincon and Italian Rossella Urru — kidnapped from a refugee camp in Tindouf in October. It was unclear if a ransom was paid.
Millions of dollars have reportedly been paid for other hostages held by Islamic groups in the Sahara Desert.
At least six Western hostages have been killed in the region between 2009 and 2011. All were held by al-Qaida's African franchise, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.
MUJAO is a breakaway from AQIM. Ansar Dine, another al-Qaida-linked rebel group led by a former Mali diplomat and one-time leader of a rebellion of the Tuareg people, is believed to have links to AQIM, which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings, as well as the kidnappings of at least 50 foreigners.