The German government expressed hope on Friday that kidnapped European tourists held by an Islamic group in northern Africa for more than four months would be freed soon. "We now hope that the affected come home safe and unscathed," deputy spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Antje Leendertse said in Berlin. Although she refused to name a time frame for their return, she indicated that state secretary in the foreign ministry, Jürgen Chrobog, had returned from visits to Algeria and Mali. Reports from Mali earlier this week said that ransom demands by the kidnappers were no longer blocking negotiations for the release of the tourists who include nine Germans, four Swiss and a Dutch national. A member of the Malian negotiating team said they were making good progress and that a medically-equipped airplane was on standby in the capital Barmako to whisk the tourists home upon their release.