The kidnapping of two Catalans by Al-Qaeda sadly becomes longest in Sahel

wo hundred and fifty-two days later, aid workers Albert Vilalta and Roque Pasqual are still being held in the northern region of Mali by a Magreb Islamist terrorist group


August 9, 2010 09:08 PM

This is a sad landmark for Catalan aid workers Albert Vilalta and Roque Pasqual, kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). Vilalta, Pasqual, and another Catalan aid worker, Alicia Gámez, freed by AQIM this March, were kidnapped on 29 November 2009. This Sunday, the two Catalans count their 252 days of captivity, the longest ever perpetrated by AQIM. Until now, this miserable record was held by the Austrians Andrea Kloiber and Wolfgang Ebner, who were kidnapped on 22 February 2008 and freed on 31 October 2008.
Vilalta and Pasqual are in good condition, according to the Spanish government, which is leading efforts for their release. However, their families are getting “tired and discouraged” as days go by, said Josep Ramon Giménez, spokesman of the NGO, Barcelona Acció Solidària, with which both aid workers collaborated.

Giménez acknowledged that they never expected the two Catalans to be kidnapped for so long. In fact, the spokesman of Barcelona Acció Solidària said that the organisation hoped that the two aid workers would be freed when their third colleague, Aícia Gámez, was liberated on 10 March.

“By then, we thought that they would free them three or four weeks later,” he said. However, this never happened, and their friends and relatives are now more discouraged than ever.

The families of the kidnapped victims are “informed regularly” about the developments of the negotiations to free the hostages, said Giménez. The Spanish government has reiterated on several occasions that the two Catalans are in good health. The government leads the negotiations in a very discreet way, a strategy welcomed by Giménez and the families of the aid workers.

The spokesman of Barcelona Acció Solidària commends the fact that the Spanish government has not adopted a belligerent strategy to free the aid workers and has chosen to talk informally with the group. In fact, last week friends and relatives of Vilalta and Pasqual feared that France’s decision to launch a military operation in efforts to free French citizen Michael Germaneau would negatively affect the fate of the two Catalans. Luckily, the Catalans were not kidnapped by the same group as Germaneau, who was killed by the terrorists as a consequence of the military operation.

Albert Vilalta, Roque Pasqual and Alícia Gámez were kidnapped in Mauritania on the night of 29 November 2009, when they were travelling with a convoy that was expected to deliver humanitarian aid all around Africa. The Islamists kidnapped them in the middle of the desert, 170 kilometres from Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Pasqual and Vilalta are currently thought to be somewhere in the desert in the northern region of Mali.