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Three foreign aid workers held in Somalia since July freed

NAIROBI — Three foreign workers with the French aid group Action Against Hunger (ACF) were freed Saturday after being held in Somalia since July, humanitarian agency sources and Somali officials said.

The three, an American, a Zimbabwean and a Pakistani, boarded a plane in the southern town of Luq, and were expected to head to Nairobi.

The three were snatched in Mandera, northern Kenya, on the night of July 17 and taken across the nearby border into Somalia by gunmen.

Sheikh Ali Hussein, an official of rebel Islamist movement Hezb al-Islam in Gedo province, told AFP, “A small plane flew the hostages out of the airport at Luq after they were freed by their kidnappers.”

He said Hezb al-Islam, which controls the region, had authorised their departure but had nothing to do with their kidnapping.

Somalia’s radical Shebab militia has also said it had nothing to do with the abduction of the three.

Hussein said that he had reports that a ransom had been paid, while a local elder who declined to be identified put the sum at 2.5 million dollars.

The kidnapping of foreigners is rampant in Somalia, a Horn of Africa country ravaged by cycles of devastating violence since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Four workers for ACF — two French women, a Belgian and a Bulgarian — as well as two Kenyan pilots, were released in August after being held for nine months.

A French intelligence agent kidnapped in July in Mogadishu is still held by Shebab and facing a trial under Sharia law. A colleague seized at the same time returned to France in August, saying he had escaped.

Source: (AFP)

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