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Spanish Aid Workers Freed in Somalia After 21-Month Capture

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July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Two Spanish aid workers abducted from a United Nations-run refugee camp in northern Kenya and held hostage for 21 months have been freed in neighboring Somalia, Medecins Sans Frontieres said.

Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut are expected to arrive today at Torrejon Air Base in Madrid on a flight from Djibouti, Switzerland-based MSF said in an e-mailed statement. They are “safe and healthy” and looking forward to reuniting with loved ones, according to the group.

“MSF wishes to thank everyone involved in securing their safe release,” according to the aid agency, which didn’t give details about how they were freed.

The women were abducted on Oct. 13, 2011, from Dadaab refugee camp, one of the world’s largest sites housing mainly Somalis who fled war and hunger. Their capture, along with attacks on other foreigners in Kenya including the shooting death of a British tourist, were blamed by Kenyan authorities on al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. It prompted the Kenyan army on Oct. 16, 2011, to deploy troops into southern Somalia to help drive out the militia and stabilize the country.

Kenyan troops last year joined the African Union Mission in Somalia, or Amisom, working alongside government troops.

Somalia has been mired in civil conflict and lawlessness since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991.

“The whole of Spanish society will celebrate the release of the two workers,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said at a press conference today in Madrid.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at smcgregor5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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