Canadian, European al Qaeda hostages freed: Mali

Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:38pm EDT
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By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists held hostage by al Qaeda's north African wing in the Sahara desert have been released, a spokesman for Mali's president and Canada's Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Canadian Robert Fowler, a United Nations envoy to Niger, disappeared with his aide last December, while four tourists -- two Swiss, a German and a Briton -- were kidnapped on the Mali-Niger border in January.

"We confirm the release of four hostages," Seydou Cissouma, a spokesman for Mali's president, told Reuters. He said they were the Canadians and two female tourists.

The freed tourists are from Switzerland and Germany.

Earlier this month, a Malian security source said a team of mediators was negotiating the release of the European tourists.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Fowler and his assistant Louis Guay were in the hands of Malian authorities, but would be transferred to the care of Canadian authorities as soon as possible.

"I cannot imagine the ordeal they have suffered in recent weeks," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa at which he declined to say if any ransom was paid to obtain any of the victims' release.

Harper said Canada had a policy against paying ransoms, but negotiations in this case were handled by Malian authorities.   Continued...

<p>Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler is seen in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Stringer</p>