| TWO Spanish and an Italian aid workers have been freed in Mali nine months after they were kidnapped by an extremist Islamic cell.
Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón (pictured), Enric Gonyalons and Rosella Urru were volunteers at a refugee camp in Tindouf, a disputed territory on the border of Algeria and Western Sahara, when they were abducted on October 22.
They were taken to northern Mali by members of the Unity and Yihad Movement of West Africa (MUYAO), part of Al-Qaeda.
Their captors held them to ransom in an attempt to force the release of Saharan prisoner Mamine uld-Evghir, who had been jailed in the city of Nuakchot for his involvement in extremist actions.
Once the inmate was removed from prison and taken to a hidden location, Spain's interior minister José Manuel García Margalló believed there could be light at the end of the tunnel for the hostages, but a coup d'état in Mali at the end of March proved to be a major setback – particularly when the Malian negotiator who was working with the Spanish government on securing the aid workers' release 'disappeared' after a military revolt that led to their taking over the running of the country.
A plane has been sent to Mali from Spain to take the freed hostages home and a helicopter will transport them to the air-base.
According to the leader of radical Islamic group Ansar al-Din, Sanda Uld, the three aid workers are currently with negotiators from Burkina Faso.
It was Sanda Uld who told the Spanish government that the hostages had been released.