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Germany

Four Western hostages are released in Mali

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says a German woman held in Mali has been freed, along with three other hostages. Al-Qaeda's North African branch had claimed responsibility for the abductions.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier

Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he's relieved the German woman is free.

A German tourist who was taken hostage by Islamists three months ago in Mali was released Wednesday evening, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin.

The 77-year-old woman was one of four western tourists abducted on January 22 during a trip to Niger and Mali. Steinmeier said that the woman was in the care of Mali government officials and that she was exhausted by the ordeal and hardship of three months in captivity.

Steinmeier also thanked Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure, who had cooperated closely with Berlin to end the abduction.

A spokesperson for the Mali government said that that two Canadian UN diplomats and a woman from Switzerland have also been released. A group calling itself the North African branch of al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the abductions demanding its members to be freed from detention in Mali and other countries.

Analysts say the Sahara desert in West Africa has become increasingly insecure for tourists with Islamist groups seeking to spread their influence south from Algeria. Malian officials initially blamed Tuareg rebels for the January abduction saying that al-Qaeda hires the nomadic rebels and other armed groups to carry out kidnappings.

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