Freed Sahara hostages arrive in Germany
Fourteen Europeans freed from a six-month hostage ordeal in the Sahara desert have arrived in Germany.
The nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch tourist landed in the western German city of Cologne after a six hour flight from Mali's capital.
The tourists left the Malian capital of Bamako bound for Cologne just before 0000 GMT, the BBC reported Wednesday.
Earlier, the group had flown in from Gao, after a journey by road from the desert outpost of Tessalit, a day after being freed by suspected Muslim kidnappers.
The group, appearing thin and many of them wearing ragged desert robes and turbans, attended a welcoming ceremony at Bamako's presidential palace before leaving Mali, according to the AP.
The tourists are reported to be well, but exhausted.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hailed their release as a victory against "international terrorism". On Tuesday, he branded as "terrorists" the kidnappers of the European tourists, saying they must be caught and punished.
Schroeder called on the international community "to fight this kind of terrorism."
"It is a matter of recognising that terrorists were at work there, and that these were criminal acts," he told reporters in Berlin.
However, a row has erupted in Germany over reports that a ransom was paid.
The German media has reported that the kidnappers wanted $5 million for each hostage as well as security guarantees.
Germany's ZDF television said a Malian negotiator had given a ransom to the hostage-takers, but that the money did not come from the German Government.
In the meantime, Chancellor Schroeder added that travellers should take responsibility for their own safety.
"Let me in this hour of joy remind, perhaps even warn, our fellow citizens to prepare their travels to ensure their own safety as much as possible," he said in a statement.
The hostages were among 32 tourists abducted by suspected Islamics in southern Algeria earlier this year. They were later moved to Mali, where intense negotiations were conducted to get them released.
Seventeen of the original 32 hostages were freed in May in a raid by Algerian special forces. One German hostage, a 46-year-old mother of two, died in captivity, reportedly of heatstroke.
Algeria said the kidnappers belonged to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which is fighting for a purist Islamist state. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)