MADRID — Spain on Sunday urged its citizens to leave Mali due to kidnappings of Westerners by Al-Qaeda Islamists in the west African nation, where rebels are holding the vast desert north after a coup.
Spain's foreign ministry said that "according to well informed sources" the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) plans to carry out more such abductions of foreigners.
"There is a serious risk of kidnappings in the entire country," the ministry said on its website.
"As a result we advise Spanish citizens who live or are passing through Mali and whose presence is not indispensible to temporarily leave the country."
Three European aid workers -- two Spaniards and an Italian -- were released in Mali on July 18 after being kidnapped from a Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf in western Algeria that houses people from the disputed Western Saharan territory that abuts Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.
A previously unknown group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO by its French acronym, claimed responsibility for their kidnapping, saying it was an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Spain on Saturday repatriated 12 of its aid workers, along with two French nationals and an Italian, from refugee camps in Tindouf due to fears for their security.
They arrived in Madrid in the early hours of Sunday on a Spanish military aircraft.
Islamists, including fighters belonging to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have gained control of the northern two-thirds of Mali since a coup in the country on March 22 threw the country into turmoil.
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