Somali pirates free British hostage: witnesses

MOGADISHU Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:12am EDT

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MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates freed British hostage Judith Tebbutt on Wednesday, more than six months after gunmen killed her husband and kidnapped her from a luxury beach resort in neighboring Kenya.

"After efforts today, we have succeeded in the release of the British woman. She just left from Adado airport to Nairobi," Omar Mohammed Diirey, a regional administration official, told Reuters from Adado in central Somalia.

Two witnesses said they saw Tebbutt boarding an airplane that took off from Adado airport.

A pirate who identified himself as Ahmed told Reuters Tebbutt had been handed over to regional administration officials early on Wednesday after receiving a ransom that had been air dropped.

Gunmen raided the remote Kiwayu Safari Village in the early hours of September 11, shooting dead publishing executive David Tebbutt, 58, and taking his wife hostage before escaping by boat to nearby Somalia.

In the following weeks, attackers abducted a disabled French lady from another beach in northern Kenya and two Spanish aid workers from a refugee camp in the east African country.

The Kenyan government blamed Somalia's al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab and sent hundreds of troops across the border, scrambling to beef up security along the porous frontier and reassure a spooked tourism sector.

Al Shabaab denied they were behind the wave of kidnappings and pirates, who usually focus on hijacking merchant ships and private yachts off the lawless country's coast, said they were holding Tebbutt.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ahmed in Nairobi; Writing by Yara Bayoumy Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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