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Chad frees 'kidnap' plot Spaniards

  • Story Highlights
  • A Chadian judge frees three Spanish flight crew members
  • The three were accused of allegedly plotting to kidnap children for adoption
  • They were among 21 people arrested as they tried to fly 103 children out of Chad
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From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A judge in Chad on Friday freed three Spanish flight crew members who had been detained for allegedly plotting to kidnap African children from the impoverished central African country, a senior Spanish foreign ministry spokesman told CNN.

The three Spaniards -- a charter airline pilot, first officer, and flight attendant -- were in good condition and with Spanish diplomats in Chad, awaiting a flight back to Madrid later Friday, the spokesman said.

Earlier Friday, the second-ranking official in the Spanish Foreign Ministry, Secretary of State Bernardino Leon, departed Madrid in a government jet bound for Chad. His jet landed in the neighboring country of Niger and, after the confirmation of the Spaniards' release, was due to continue on to Chad's capital to pick them up and return to Madrid, the spokesman said.

The three Spaniards were freed after a Chadian judge signed their release order Friday, the spokesman said.

The three were among 21 people arrested last month as they tried to fly 103 children out of Chad on a plane bound for France. Chadian authorities said the group, organized by French-based charity Zoe's Ark, was kidnapping the children in an adoption scheme.

The charity said the group was on a mission to rescue orphans from Darfur, but aid agencies have said it appears most of the children were not orphans and were instead from Chad.

A Chadian judge released seven of the 21-member group on Sunday after French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to the country to press for their release. The seven included three French journalists and four other members of the Spanish flight crew, all female flight attendants.

Thursday, the head of Zoe's Ark testified before a judge in Chad that the three Spaniards who remained in custody from the charter plane company had no responsibility in the affair, another foreign ministry spokesman told CNN.

All seven members of the Spanish flight crew, who work for the Spanish charter company Gir Jet, had been charged with complicity in the alleged kidnapping plot, which they denied.

Still held in Chad were the six French charity workers from Zoe's Ark, a Belgian pilot, and four Chadian nationals.

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Sarkozy has said he hopes the French nationals would face trial in France, rather than in Chad.

Aid agencies were trying to reunite the children with their families, a difficult task because many of the children are so young and could provide few or no details about their families. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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