Spaniards taken hostage in Mauritania

Spanish authories fears that a group linked to Al Quaeda is responsible for the abduction.

Yesterday evening three Spanish volunteers who had been taking part in a humanitarian mission were kidnapped by a number of armed men driving a landrover. The Spanish Government confirmed the attack this morning and the Home Office Minister said the hostages had probably been snatched by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group that has been targeting westerners in this area in recent years.

The three volunteers, one woman and two men, were taking part in an expedition organised by Barcelona Acció Solidaria (BAS), a charity set up in 2000 to encourage international cooperation, humanitarian aid and solidarity with underdeveloped countries. They were members of a “solidarity convoy” set up to transport materials and resources needed by charities and voluntary associations working in Morrocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. The expedition had official backing from Barcelona’s municipal authorities and the Mayor of Barcelona’s wife is among the rest of the volunteers who are safe and waiting to receive news in their hotel in Mauritania.

The victims are Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual, both businessmen and Alicia Gamez, a civil servant. All live and work in Barcelona and have been involved in the annual charity convoy before. They were travelling in the last car of a convoy of vehicles transporting humanitarian aid “to the poor of the poorest” along a 240-mile road linking the capital, Nouakchott, to Nouadhibou in the north. They were listening to the Barcelona-Madrid football match on the car radio and rang other members of the expedition to celebrate Barcelona’s goal. This was the last contact the three volunteers had with their friends and fellow collaborators. The other vehicles in the convoy turned round as soon as they realised the last one had lagged behind, and arrived to find its doors open and their colleagues missing.

The fact that valuable items such as a computer, money and the radio had been left untouched is seen to be further evidence that the motive of the attack was to take hostages.

The Spanish, Mauritian and Mali governments have launched a joint search operation.