Freed Niger hostages say were not mistreated
By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY (Reuters) - Five African aid workers freed on Saturday after nearly three weeks as hostages in the Sahara desert said they were relieved to be back with their families in Niger and that their captors did not mistreat them.
A sixth aid worker - who was also kidnapped - was shot during the abduction in central Niger on October 14 and later died of his wounds, they said.
"It is a feeling of joy and satisfaction now that we have been able to rejoin our families and friends, but there is a sadness as well, the loss of one of our colleagues," said Garba Yaye Issa, one of the aid workers, at a news conference in Niger's capital Niamey, hours after being released.
"We don't know where we were during our captivity. During that time, we were not mistreated either mentally or physically. We don't know who abducted us, but they spoke Arab as well as Tamashek and Hausa," he said.
Niger Defence Minister Karidio Mahamadou told Reuters he suspected the kidnappers belonged to an al Qaeda-linked group called MUJWA, which along with Ansar Dine has taken control of about two-thirds of Mali's north since a coup in March.
"The kidnappers were from MUJWA, no doubt," Mahamadou said. "Up to now, though, we have seen no claim of responsibility."
Gunmen kidnapped the six aid workers, who included five citizens of Niger and one from Chad, from the town of Dakoro in central Niger overnight on October 14.
Officials said they believe the group were driven to a region of neighboring Mali now in the hands of Islamists. Continued...