Spain to pay al-Qaeda ransom

2010-02-21 17:13

Madrid - Spain is going to pay $5m for the release of three Spanish hostages kidnapped by an al-Qaeda offshoot in Mauritania, El Mundo newspaper said Sunday.

A Spanish foreign ministry spokesperson said he had "no new official information" on the three Spaniards who were seized in Mauritania on November 29.

Spain "is handing over $5m to the terrorists of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) through a Touareg chief," El Mundo claimed without naming sources.

The report said the deal was reached at the end of January between Madrid and the group with the help of the Malian authorities. The amount had been "confirmed" to the newspaper by a member of the government, it added.

The newspaper published an interview with Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure who said he was "confident that there would be very good news in coming days" about six European hostages held by al-Qaeda's north African branch, including the three Spaniards.

Frenchman Pierre Camatte, who was kidnapped in Mali in November, the three Spaniards and an Italian couple taken in December in Mauritania are being held in the northern Mali desert.

A deadline set by the group for the execution of the French hostage expired on Saturday.

The kidnappers have demanded the release of Islamists imprisoned in Mali in exchange for Camatte and Italian Sergio Cicala.

Threats to kill hostages have become more serious since AQIM killed British tourist Edwin Dyer in June 2009, after six months in captivity. Britain refused to yield to the Islamist militants' demands.