The 2 Catalans kidnapped by Al-Qaeda are back to Barcelona
The longest kidnapping by Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and the Sahel has now ended after 268 days. The 2 men arrived last night at Barcelona from Burkina Faso, where they took a plane after a long journey by car and helicopter across Mali, where they were kept. They were kidnapped in Mauritania last November when they were travelling with a cooperation aid convoy heading to Senegal and The Gambia. The freeing operation has been very complex and there are unconfirmed rumours of a ransom payment.
Barcelona (ACN).- After 268 days of being kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in Mauritania, Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual have been freed. They are now back to Barcelona, after flying from Burkina Faso in a Spanish Air Force plane, which landed after 1 am last night. They were kept in eastern Mali for 9 months. They have been driven to Burkina Faso\u2019s capital, Ouagadougou, after a journey of almost an entire day; firstly by car with the chief negotiator and secondly by helicopter, when they were joined by Spanish Secret Service agents. In Ouagadougou some of their family members were waiting for them and they have all boarded the flight back to Barcelona. This kidnapping has been Al Qaeda\u2019s longest in the Maghreb and Sahel regions. They disappeared on the 29th of November while travelling in Mauritania on the road between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott with a development cooperation convoy heading to Senegal and The Gambia. They were kidnapped together with Alicia Gámez, who was freed on the 10th of March. Unconfirmed rumours suggest a ransom payment of almost 4 million euros and the freeing of one of the people detained for the kidnapping.
Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual are finally back to Barcelona.The longest kidnapping by Al-Qaeda in the Magrhed and the Sahel regions is now ended. The military plane that was carrying the two men arrived at Barcelona airport after 1 am last night. It was coming from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou,where they were carried by a helicopter from eastern Mali. In Ouagadougou they met with their spouses, who arrived in the Falcon plane from the Spanish Air Force, which had to carry the men back. The Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Soraya Rodríguez, travelled as well to Ouagadougou to welcome them; she was joined by a doctor and a psychologist.
Already in Ouagadougou's airport, Roque Pascual said that "We are very happy. It is an extremely important day for us". Once in Barcelona, Albert Vilalta stated that "It has been very hard" although they underlined that they were treated "correctly" considering the tough conditions and the situation.
9 months of suffering for Albert Vilalta, Roque Pascual and their friends and families have ended. 9 months of secret negotiations lead by the Spanish Government with the collaboration of foreign governments and especially the governments of Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso have ended as well. After a few days of rumours of an imminent freeing, on Sundayafternoon the good news arrived. Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual were driven from eastern Mali to Ouagadougou by the chief negotiator, Mustafa Uld Liman Chafi, who has been essential for the happy end. After a very long journey by car across a non-safe region, in eastern Mali, they boarded a helicopter with Spanish Secret Service agents, which carried them to Ouagadougou\u2019s airport after making a short stop in Gorom-Gorom\u2019s airport to refuel and eat, according to some media.
The Spanish Government was extremely cautious to confirm Albert Vilalta\u2019s and Roque Pascual\u2019s freedom, as they have been on the road for a long while and the first part of the journey was not safe. The official confirmation arrived yesterday at 13:45 and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero made an official declaration at 14.15. However, on Sunday evening Albert Vilalta already called his wife to tell her that they had been freed. Besides, a plane has been ready in the Madrid airport since Sunday afternoon to fly into the zone at any time.
In the hours to come, more information will be available on the details of the ransom and on Albert Vilalta\u2019s and Roque Pascual\u2019s health condition. However, it could be seen in the first images that Albert Vilalta was walking with the help of a cane.