November 30, 2009 / 11:43 AM / 10 years ago

Al Qaeda may have kidnapped Spaniards: minister

MADRID (Reuters) - Three Spanish aid workers who disappeared in Mauritania on Sunday appear to have been kidnapped by a group linked to al Qaeda, Spain’s Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

“Although we still can’t be completely sure of anything, everything indicates that it was a kidnapping, and, if so, as I fear it was, everything indicates that it was a kidnapping by AQIM, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” Rubalcaba told Spanish radio on Monday.

Albert Vilalta, Alicia Gamez and Roque Pascual disappeared from a convoy run by a Barcelona-based humanitarian aid organisation to deliver computers and other equipment to poor communities.

Mauritanian security sources said an attack took place on the road between the capital Nouakchott and the coastal trading city of Nouadhibou.

“I heard my colleagues in one of the cars, specifically I was talking to Roque Pascual, who said ‘soldiers, soldiers, machine guns, machine guns’,” Joseph Carbonell, head of the aid group Barcelona-Accio Solidaria, told Reuters.

“We found the vehicle empty, well, empty of people but their personal belonging or any money, was still there, nothing else had been touched,” said Carbonell, who was travelling in another car ahead of the convoy and talking with his colleagues by telephone at the time of the attack.

There has been no communication yet from the kidnappers, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told a news conference in Portugal.

Mauritania has been a source of growing security concern since Islamist gunmen claimed responsibility for the slaying of four French tourists in late 2007 and then a September 2008 beheading of Mauritanian soldiers on a patrol.

Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing claimed responsibility for a botched suicide bomb attack on the French embassy in Mauritania in August which injured three people.

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