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Spanish authorities have had no contact with three Spanish volunteers kidnapped in Mauritania by suspected al-Qaeda militants over the weekend, Spain's ambassador has said.
Ambassador Alonso Dezcallar y Mazarredo refused to comment on reports that the hostages had been found close to Nouakchott on Tuesday.
There were also conflicting reports from Morocco over the fate of the three, who are feared to have been kidnapped on Tuesday by the hardline al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - the north African branch of Osama bin Laden's Islamist network.
"We cannot confirm nor deny reports that the hostages have been freed," the ambassador told a press conference.
"We have not had contact with them since the kidnapping."
The diplomat refused to give details about the search for the kidnappers and their hostages, saying it could endanger the lives of the volunteers and hamper rescue operations.
"Our priority is the security of the hostages and getting them out alive," Dezcallar y Mazarredo said.
Speaking later on Tuesday, a Moroccan security source announced that the three had been abandoned by their kidnappers in the Aguouimite region, a buffer zone located between northern Mauritania and southern Western Sahara.
But this was promptly denied by a Moroccan government official.
"This information is pure speculation," the official source told AFP in Rabat.
With a convoy of 13 cars the last one was attacked. It seems less likely that the attackers were targeting individuals - they just picked tha last vehicle.
Rather than waiting by the roadside for potential victims, I would think they were following the convoy waiting for the moment to attack.
The convoy was the target, and Spaniards (using Aqim logic) legitimate nationality for kidnapping.
This is big business and therefore one would think the attacks are carefully planned rather than random.
If they are planned, that means that there are measures that can be taken to avoid being kidnapped.
Keep traveling schedules confidential, and also change them without notice,
Don't hang around unnecessarily in the bad areas (say Mauritania east to Agadez).
Stick with others.
I would also suggest that leaving a desert festival (such as Essakane) is the time to watch out.
It is interesting to see how the story unfolds and try to figure out what is actually going on.
"Nouakchott/Madrid - Three Spanish aid workers abducted Sunday night have been moved to Mali, a high-ranking Mauritanian official said Wednesday.
The Spanish government meanwhile said it was trying to determine 'the exact location' where the hostages were being held.
The abductors were criminals cooperating with the North African branch of al-Qaeda, the official told the German Press Agency dpa on condition of anonymity.
Gangs trafficking in drugs and migrants had moved into abductions as a source of income, the official explained. The Mauritanian and Western Saharan coast is a popular transit route for African migrants trying to reach Spain.
The Spanish government has consistently said it could not confirm reports that the aid workers - two men and a woman - had been located.
But in a communique issued Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said the government was working to 'determine the exact location of those abducted,' without giving more details.
Spain was in contact 'at all levels' with the authorities of Mauritania and other countries in the region, the ministry said.
Mauritanian security officials on Tuesday told dpa and a representative of the aid organization Barcelona Accio Solidaria that the aid workers had been found.
The Spanish daily El Mundo on Wednesday quoted 'reliable sources' as saying the Spanish secret service had located the hostages, but that the Spanish government had not been in touch with the abductors. The sources denied media reports that the hostages had been released.
Mauritanian security forces on Monday launched a massive manhunt for the aid workers who were abducted the previous night at gunpoint as they were returning to Nouakchott from the port city of Nouadhibou, near the border with Western Sahara.
The Spaniards were in the last vehicle of an aid convoy."
Conflicting information about whereabouts of kidnapped Spanish aid workers
By: ThinkSpain , Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Conflicting reports about the situation of the three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Mauritania on Sunday continue to abound, with Spain "neither confirming nor denying" that it knows of their whereabouts.
During the course of the day yesterday, various reports were released suggesting that the three kidnapped Spaniards had been found 100km to the north west of Akjout, in the country's inland region, and even that they had been released.
However, the Spanish ambassador in Nuakchot, Alonso Dezcállar, made it quite clear in a press conference that he had "no new information at the moment" and rejected outright the suggestion that the three aid workers had in fact already been released.
When asked by journalists whether he knew the whereabouts of the kidnapped Spaniards, Dezcállar responded ambiguously, saying he could "neither confirm or deny" this report, a response that gave a glimmer of hope to the remaining charity workers who had been travelling with the convoy when the jeep Albert Vilalta, Alicia Gámez and Roque Pascual were travelling was ambushed by armed men.
Whilst the other aid workers wait for news, the Mauritanian authorities are remaining silent about the situation and have only confirmed that they are working on a triple hypothesis: that the kidnappers have moved into the desert, that they have hidden their hostages in a nearby town and that they are bandits rather than Al Qaeda terrorists.
Sources within the Mauritanian government have explained that the borders have been sealed, making it difficult for the kidnappers to have fled the country, despite the obvious permeability of the borders.
Spain has made its resources in Mauritania available to the authorities, including a helicopter and an aeroplane, but the ambassador was unable to say whether or not the African country had accepted the help.
Head of Mauritania's national police replaced : Africa World
Nouakchott - Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel-Aziz on Wednesday dismissed the head of the country's national police force, a senior official said. Abdel-Aziz replaced his close associate, Colonel Ahmed Ould Bekrine, with Colonel Anjagha Janik as head of the National Gendarmes, a Mauritanian official told the German Press Agency dpa, requesting anonymity.
No reason was given for the change, but the colonel was one of the primary officers responsible for security along the road where three Spanish aid workers were abducted on Sunday night.
The change also follows leaks from Mauritanian security sources on Tuesday night indicating that the abductors had been located.
Spanish government officials have repeatedly said they could not confirm that information.
A Mauritanian political official, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Wednesday said the aid workers had been taken to Mali.
If so, they would have had to travel hundreds of kilometres from the coastal road where they were abducted, eluding a massive manhunt to reach the border.
Like ROB NL & MLOCK i am also planning a trip to said region.Although I am following this situation very closely,I am not altering my plans at the moment.I think the situation out there could change ether way in a short time,and hope things will settle down again once all the security forces(and diplomats)have shown their might.
Guess its just hoping not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Just rode solo through Mauri, also went east. No problems and still alive.
Don't know if its the same convoy but think I overtook them in Morocco on the way south.
From my experience, it is very easy to take a vehicle from the NDB-NKT road to Mali without being noticed. A probable route could have been the along the firm corridor between the Azzefal and Akchar dunes, all the way to the southern Western Sahara border. From there its easy to avoid the Adrar Atar massif, by diverting a little to the north and head east already above Fderik. The single police checkpoint is located at Choum, in a flat area, that kidnappers can avoid by driving inside Western Sahara territory.
The single issue would be fuel autonomy. But if they can reach the region of F'derik, fuel would be easily avaialable without stopping at Atar.
Unfortunately, given the time that already as passed, I would tend to assume that the victims might be already in Mali.
I think that it was a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The road is populated by Western vehicles, thus it could had happen to any one....
Presuming Aqim is behind, I would think the kidnappers went straight for the border and were out of the country the next day.
Interesting how Mauritania intended to "seal" the Mali border - surely a daunting task.
It says in the article below all borders were closed, also to Morocco. Are they open now?
Kidnapped Spanish aid workers believed held in Mali (Magharebia.com)
"Three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Mauritania on November 29th are believed to have been moved from Mauritania, and the incident may have scuppered the possibility of talks between imprisoned Salafists and the government.'
Following the incident, Mauritania declared a state of maximum alert and sent anti-terrorism units to its desert borders to seal off all outlets for the kidnappers. The borders with Mali, Algeria and Morocco were closed."
I rode down this road about 2 weeks ago with an English guy who'd travelled it in a van about 9 months earlier and had prepared me for constant checks and "requests for gifts". The lack of police checks was striking. I don't recall getting stopped even once and only rode through maybe 4 checkpoints on the whole journey. Even the Piste down to the Diama crossing only had one checkpoin and they waved me through.
The few times I did get stopped in Mauritanian the police were so distracted by talking about the result of the Ireland - France game (and the hand ball) that I was never asked for anything more than a look at my passport. Same thing in Senegal. The Paddy passport was like a "get out of jail" card.
I was due to ride back this same route but decided to air freight the bike back because I'd only end up doing the same roads again. Hmm - probably a good decision.
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