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Two al Qaeda hostages freed

MADRID | Two Spanish aid workers held by al Qaeda’s North African wing were freed on Monday, the Spanish government said, ending a kidnapping in the Sahara Desert that lasted nearly nine months.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it seized Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual while they were traveling through Mauritania with a relief aid convoy last November, the latest in a string of abductions claimed by the group.

“They are safe and sound after 268 days in the hands of their kidnappers and [268 days] of the Spanish government’s concern and efforts to obtain their release,” Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference.

“This brings an end to an act of terrorism that should never have happened,” Mr. Zapatero said.

AQIM has said Spain is one of its targets because it is an ally of the United States and part of NATO.

The release appeared to be linked to Mauritania’s repatriation to Mali earlier this month of a militant convicted of the kidnapping of the two Spaniards, along with a third who was freed in March, a European security analyst said.


Production of missile assault boats begins

TEHRAN | Iran began mass-producing two high-speed variants of missile-launching assault boats on Monday, warning its enemies not to “play with fire” as it boosts security along its coastline.

The inauguration of the production lines for the Seraj and Zolfaqar speedboats comes a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled Iran’s insifwnoua bomber drone, which he said would deliver “death” to Iran’s enemies.

The state-run news agency IRNA reported that Seraj, or Lamp and Zolfaqar, named after Shiite Imam Ali’s sword, would be manufactured at the marine industries complex of the ministry of defense.

Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi opened the assembly lines, saying the vessels would help strengthen Iran’s defense forces, IRNA said.

“Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is relying on a great defense industry and the powerful forces of Sepah (Revolutionary Guards) and the army, with their utmost strength, can provide security to the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman and Strait of Hormuz,” Mr. Vahidi said.

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