TWO Spanish aid workers held by al Qaeda's North African wing were freed yesterday, the Spanish government said, ending a kidnapping that lasted nearly nine months, the longest period of captivity in the Sahara desert.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it seized Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual while they were travelling through Mauritania with a relief aid convoy last November, the latest in a string of abductions claimed by the group. “They are safe and sound after 268 days in the hands of their kidnappers and of the Spanish government's concern and efforts to obtain their release,” Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

He said family members were travelling with a government representative to meet the two men, who were working with the Barcelona-Accio Solidario aid group when they were seized.

They were due to arrive in Barcelona last night. “This brings an end to an act of terrorism that should never have happened,” Zapatero said.

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