Algiers – The individuals who kidnapped three aid workers, including two Spanish citizens, from the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf, a Saharan town in western Algeria, fled toward the border with Mauritania before entering Mali, Saharawi Foreign Minister Mohamed Salek Uld Salek told Efe Monday.
Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon, a member of Extremadura's Association of Friends of the Saharawi People, and Enric Gonyalons, of the Spanish non-governmental organization Mundobat, were abducted on Saturday night from the facility in Rabuni where foreign aid workers are lodged.
Rosella Urru, an Italian aid worker, was taken along with the two Spanish citizens.
The kidnappers arrived in Rabuni aboard an SUV and had a second vehicle waiting near the border with Mauritania, the Saharawi official said.
"They headed off in the direction of the border with Mauritania so they could later head toward the territory of Mali. Our forces have been deployed in those areas," the official said.
The aid workers were abducted by "terrorists," the Saharawi official said, without identifying the group involved in the kidnappings.
"We are awaiting news. Our armed forces are working tirelessly in the search for the terrorists who staged the kidnappings," Salek said, adding that Saharawi officials were holding out hope that the hostages would be rescued.
The group that planned and executed the kidnappings, which are the first to occur in the refugee camps, had "a double objective," Salek said.
"The first, obviously, is to demand ransom. The second is more political, they want to make it seem that the camps in Tindouf are unsafe to scare donors and those in charge of humanitarian assistance," the Saharawi official said.
The president of the partially recognized Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR, Mohamed Abdelaziz, called in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for "international condemnation of this terrorist attack."
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Efe, says the kidnapping of "three friends of the Saharawi people" was intended to "terrorize" refugees and humanitarian activists "with the goal of depriving the people of international support."
"In light of this serious incident, we call on the international community to condemn this cowardly attack and to show solidarity with the Saharawi people and Polisario Front to be able to deal with these types of terrorist acts," Abdelaziz said in his letter.
Saharawi officials are in contact with the governments of neighboring countries to unite all efforts in capturing the kidnappers and freeing the aid workers, the Saharawi leader said.
Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, meanwhile, said Monday that reports blaming Al Qaeda for the kidnappings were "mere speculation."
About 2,300 Spanish aid workers are abroad and "nearly all of them work in difficult situations, in conflict zones," Jimenez said, noting that aid workers "are aware" of the risks they take.
The Spanish government is working with "much discretion and prudence" to win the hostages' release, the foreign minister said, adding that she could not offer additional details.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has carried out a number of kidnappings in southern Algeria, Mali and Mauritania, but it has never abducted anyone in the Sahrawi refugee camps controlled by the Polisario Front.
The SADR is the name given the Western Sahara by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which launched a war for independence against Morocco in 1975 after the North African kingdom annexed the territory on the withdrawal of Spanish forces.
The native Saharawis, led by the Polisario Front, have spent decades resisting Morocco's annexation of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.