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Speculation mounts over price paid to free Spanish hostages

Al Qaeda’s North African wing has says it freed two kidnapped Spanish aid workers after some of its demands were met. Speculation is growing over how Madrid secured their release and whether money was handed over.

Albert Vilalta, right, and Roque Pascual gesture after arriving in Barcelona

Vilalta, right, and Pascual arrived safely in Barcelona

The North African wing of al Qaeda said it freed two Spanish aid workers who spent nearly nine months in captivity after some of its requests were met.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) did not specify what its demands were in an audio clip received by Spanish daily newspaper El Pais on Tuesday.

Spain may have paid some 5.5 million euros ($7 million) according to sources close to Burkina Faso negotiators who mediated the deal to release Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual, who arrived in Barcelona overnight after being freed on Monday.

The Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo said that the government paid out 6.8 million euros in total to secure the release.

The newspaper said Spain had paid an initial demand of 3.8 million euros in January, but that the bulk of this had been siphoned off by intermediaries.

Further payments made?

El Mundo said that three further payments, totaling 3 million euros, were paid during the rest of the year to meet the full demand.

Speculation has also been made that the release was linked to an alleged deal between Mali and Mauritania to free an al Qaeda collaborator jailed for organizing the kidnapping.

Another hostage, 39-year-old Alicia Gamez, was freed in March. The Spanish government strongly denied that a ransom had been paid following her release.

The brief statement also said that the release should serve as a lesson to France, which unsuccessfully used military force to try to resolve a similar hostage crisis.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP/dpa/AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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