Austrian hikers freed by Al-Qaeda in ‘good health’: government

Austrian hikers freed by Al-Qaeda in ‘good health’: government

2 november 2008

VIENNA (AFP) — The two Austrians freed by the north African branch of Al-Qaeda are « in good health » despite being fed only bread and water during their many months in captivity, the government and a family member said Sunday.

« Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber are in surprisingly good health, » said the defence ministry in a statement.

At a press conference at the pair’s home city of Salzburg Sunday, Ebner’s son said how they survived their more than eight-month ordeal on « bread and water » alone.

But it was not made known when they would be discharged from their Vienna hospital.

Ebner, 51, and his partner Kloiber, 44, were freed Thursday night after 252 days in captivity and flown home to Austria Saturday.

The desert hiking enthusiasts disappeared while on holiday in southern Tunisia in February as they were driving in their four-wheel-drive vehicle.

A few weeks later, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for their kidnapping.

The hostages were moved to northern Mali — a region that borders Algeria — where the kidnappers initially demanded the release of a number of Islamic extremists imprisoned in Algeria and Tunisia.

Later sources said there were several demands for ransom.

The Malian and Austrian governments have refused to comment on the circumstances of the kidnapping and the release. While Vienna denies any ransom was paid, sources close to the negotiations say money did change hands to secure a release.

A source in the Malian security forces said simply that Ebner and Kloiber were released « 1,000 kilometers to the north of the Kidal – Timbuktu road », in a region which borders Mauritania and Algeria.