Al-Qaeda claims Spanish hostage converted to Islam
A Spanish woman held hostage by al-Qaeda was released this week because of her health problems - and because she had converted to Islam, the daily El Pais on Friday quoted an al-Qaeda communique as saying, DPA reported.
There were, however, no visible signs that 35-year-old Alicia Gamez had converted, nor did she make any comments to that effect when arriving in Barcelona on Wednesday.
Gamez and two male companions were abducted from a convoy of the aid organization they worked for on November 29 in Mauritania. The three were then taken to northern Mali.
The Spanish government has denied paying a ransom for Gamez, but a press report claimed she had been released for a sum of two million dollars. Her two companions remain in captivity.
Al-Qaeda's north African branch said it decided to release Gamez because of her frail health and because she converted "voluntarily" to Islam, taking the name Aicha, El Pais quoted a communique by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as saying.
The daily said it obtained the communique exclusively.
The reasons given by AQIM for freeing Gamez contradicted the opinion of Spanish doctors, who said she was in good health. Neither di her appearance or comments indicate a conversion to Islam.
AQIM described Gamez' release as a "positive initiative" obliging Spain to "respond favourably" to the group's "legitimate" conditions for the release of Gamez' companions.
AQIM did not name the conditions, but they are seeking a ransom of 5 million dollars and the release of Islamist prisoners from a jail in Nouakchott, Mauritania, El Pais quoted sources close to the negotiations as saying.
AQIM said it had kidnapped Spaniards because of Spain's participation in international military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.