Italian freed after 2011 abduction in N. Africa

April 17, 2012 - 4:57 PM

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — An Italian tourist abducted in Algeria by al-Qaida's North African branch headed home Tuesday night after spending more than a year in captivity.

Maria Sandra Mariani boarded a plane in the West African nation of Burkina Faso that had been sent by Italian government, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

"I thank (Burkinabe) President Blaise Compaore. He contributed to my freedom and they got me out of hell," she said at the main military base in Ouagadougou before taking off.

Mariani was accompanied by officials from Burkina Faso who helped free her, but nothing was said about the conditions of her release.

Earlier Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi also gave no details about how she was freed or whether a ransom was paid.

In 2010, two Spanish aid workers who had been held by al-Qaida militants later turned up in Burkina Faso as well. An adviser to the country's president was believed to have helped in those hostage negotiations.

Mariani was abducted in February 2011 in Algeria's remote southern desert while on a visit organized by a travel agency. Two weeks after the kidnapping, an al-Qaida spokesman claimed responsibility in a broadcast on Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya during which Mariani also spoke.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, grew out of armed Islamic groups fighting the Algerian government in the 1990s and eventually expanded operations to the Sahel region where the militants have been making money through smuggling and kidnapping.

Some 50 Europeans and Canadians have been kidnapped and ransomed by the group, earning it an estimated $130 million in less than a decade.