International Red Cross workers freed in north Mali

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BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Islamic extremists in northern Mali freed three staffers with the International Committee of the Red Cross they had kidnapped last week, a spokesman for the organization said Friday.

The staffers were freed early Friday, said Valery Mbaoh Nana, international Red Cross spokesman in Bamako, Mali's capital, with the aid of local notables.

"Our colleagues were freed without condition," he said.

The staffers were originally kidnapped by the jihadi Ansar Dine group on Saturday, said a member of a Tuareg separatist group in contact with the kidnappers.

The Red Cross team had earlier been stopped by French soldiers near the village Abeibara where they were distributing water and their guide and his assistant were detained, he explained. The staffers were allowed to continue.

The jihadis then kidnapped the Red Cross staffers near Kidal, insisting the guide and his apprentice be released, said the separatist who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The Red Cross didn't disclose their staffers' nationalities, but said they were all African.

Nana said that International Red Cross staff have visited the guide and his assistant in prison, and took a note they wrote to their families. "It's difficult to know if someone was a jihadi or not," he said, adding that the guide was chosen by his community.

Ansar Dine is led by a Tuareg, Iyad Ag Ghali, a native of the Kidal region. The extremist group emerged in 2012 as a religious alternative to the largely secular Tuareg separatists operating in northern Mali.

Ansar Dine allied itself with al-Qaida and took over much of Mali's north before a French-led military intervention in 2013.

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