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Austria says no ransom was paid to free tourists

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VIENNA, Austria – Austria did not pay a ransom for last week’s release of two tourists held for eight months by an al-Qaida affiliate in Africa, officials said Monday.

VIENNA, Austria – Austria did not pay a ransom for last week’s release of two tourists held for eight months by an al-Qaida affiliate in Africa, officials said Monday.

Wolfgang Ebner, 51, and Andrea Kloiber, 43, had been on vacation in Tunisia when they were kidnapped Feb. 22 by Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa.

They were released Thursday in the West African nation of Mali and flew Saturday to Vienna, where they underwent medical checkups at a military hospital before being discharged Monday.

Both were in very good health, a Defense Ministry statement said. Neither has made a public appearance since the release.

With few details about how they were freed, many have speculated that their captors were paid.

Officials dismissed that idea Monday, saying Austria does not finance terrorists.

“The Republic of Austria cannot be blackmailed by terrorists, and that’s why no payments to terrorists,” Defense Minister Norbert Darabos said at a news conference.

Instead, they credited efforts by Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure.

“It was the president of Mali and his team who made a solution possible,” Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said. She also thanked other nations, including France and Germany, for their support and efforts, but she did not elaborate.