World News

Kidnap convict disappears as Spanish workers freed

BAMAKO (Reuters) - A Malian convicted in Mauritania of a role in the kidnapping of three Spanish aid workers held by al Qaeda in the Sahara has disappeared after his extradition back home this month, a military source said Tuesday.

Omar Sid-Ahmed Ould Hamma, alias Omar Sahraoui, was transferred back to Mali this month in what analysts said could prove to be part of a deal leading to the release of the two hostages still being held. The pair were released Monday.

“He can’t be found,” said a Malian military source, who requested anonymity.

The source said Sarhaoui had initially been taken to the base known as the Service National de Jeunesse (SNJ) in western Bamako but could not currently be located there.

The Justice Ministry declined to comment, noting that it was no longer dealing with the matter. One Spaniard was freed earlier this year and the remaining two, Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual, were freed Monday after nearly nine months in the hands of al Qaeda’s North African wing, which is known as AQIM.

Malian media widely reported that a ransom of 5 million euros was paid to free the hostages, though mediators in Burkina Faso, who helped secure the release, denied the reports.

AQIM, and groups linked to the Islamists, have carried out a wave of kidnappings over the last year, earning themselves millions of dollars in ransom payments, analysts say.

The group has also secured the release of some of its captured fighters in exchange for Western hostages, angering nations such as Algeria and Mauritania, which have called for a more hardline approach in dealing with the Islamists.

A joint French-Mauritanian raid on AQIM last month failed to free a French hostage, who the group said they had later executed.

Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; writing by David Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams