Three Spanish aid workers were kidnapped in Mauritania yesterday, officials said of an attack that will heighten security fears in the West African desert republic where al Qaeda-linked gunmen operate.
The three were abducted as they travelled in a convoy through the Saharan state, a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman in Madrid said.
Mauritanian security sources said the attack took place on the road between the capital Nouakchott and the coastal trading city of Nouadhibou.
Spanish news agency EFE named the three as Albert Vilalta, Alicia Gamez and Roque Pascual of the Catalan-based aid group Barcelona-Accio Solidaria. The agency earlier said four people from the group had been feared kidnapped.
It said their humanitarian aid convoy left Barcelona 15 days ago, had travelled through Morocco and was due to travel through neighbouring Senegal before ending in Gambia. They were distributing items such as sewing machines and computers.
Mauritania has been a source of growing security concern since Islamist gunmen claimed responsibility for the slaying of four French tourists in late 2007 and then a September 2008 beheading of Mauritanian soldiers on a patrol.
Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing has claimed responsibility for a botched suicide bombing on the French embassy in Mauritania in August which injured three people.
That attack came just three days after the Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who overthrew the Islamic state’s first freely elected leader last year, was sworn in as president, promising to make the fight against al Qaeda a priority.
The country has since sought to step up efforts to counter insecurity with increased army patrols.