2 Italian hostages freed in Iraq

08:35:30 PM
28 2004

2 Italian hostages freed in Iraq

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ROME, Italy -- Two female Italian aid workers and two Iraqis kidnapped in Iraq three weeks ago have been released, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has told a delighted parliament.

Berlusconi said Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, and the Iraqi men were handed over to the Red Cross in Iraq.

"Finally a moment of joy," Berlusconi said. "The two girls are well and will be able to return to their loved ones tonight."

CNN's Alessio Vinci said the women were expected to return to Rome as early as 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday.

Torretta and Pari were working for a humanitarian group called Bridge to Baghdad when their office was raided by insurgents September 7 and they were taken hostage, police said.

Berlusconi went before Parliament to give details of the release, with the assembly breaking into applause.

He thanked the intelligence agencies of Iraq's neighboring countries, including Jordan, whose king was in Rome Tuesday.

He also said the Italian secret services were involved in up to 16 different negotiations, without elaborating.

Berlusconi also thanked the opposition for backing the government in its efforts to release the two women -- a rare show of unity among Italian politicians.

"The whole of Italy -- majority and opposition -- has given a good show of unity," Berlusconi said.

Vinci said the Italian authorities did not confirm or deny reports in a Kuwaiti newspaper on Tuesday that a ransom of $1 million had been paid. Officials said no military operation took place to free the women.

Last week, an Islamic Web site that has proven to be unreliable in the past posted a message claiming that the women had been killed.

One day later, another group claimed to have killed the women in a message that was posted on multiple Islamic Web sites that have been used by Iraqi terrorists in the past.

The group -- calling itself the Al-Zawahiri Supporters Group, named after Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri -- claimed the women worked for Italian intelligence and were killed because Italy refused to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Rome sent about 2,700 troops to Iraq last year despite huge opposition at home, and said it would not bow to demands by militants to withdraw the force.

Vinci said the release of the two women was unlikely to ease pressure on Berlusconi over his decision to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The humanitarian group that the two women worked for began operating in Iraq at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991 with the goal of lifting the U.N. embargo against Iraq.

Torretta had been in Iraq for at least a year and Pari arrived just a few months ago. Both worked on a UNICEF-linked project to help rebuild schools.

Since April, militant groups in Iraq have seized more than 100 foreign hostages. Most have been released, but about 30 have been killed.

At least seven Italians have been kidnapped in recent months in Iraq and two of them subsequently killed, including journalist Enzo Baldoni.


Italian, Egyptian Hostages in Iraq Released
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two female Italian hostages seized in Baghdad three weeks ago along with two Iraqi colleagues were released on Tuesday and are safe and well, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.

Within minutes of their release, an Egyptian telephone company said four of six of its engineers snatched last week had also been set free, raising hopes for the other foreigners still being held hostage in Iraq.

"I gave the families the news a short while ago," Berlusconi said in a brief statement shown live on Italian state television. "They are well."

The two aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both aged 29, were taken at gunpoint from their central Baghdad offices on Sept. 7, in a brazen kidnapping which caused jitters among the thousands of foreigners working in Iraq.

"We have maintained absolute reserve throughout all this, but we have worked night and day to solve this problem," Berlusconi said. His spokesman confirmed the two Iraqi hostages had also been set free.

Despite the flurry of releases, there has been no word on the fate of British engineer Kenneth Bigley, who has been threatened with beheading.

Gunmen abducted Bigley, a 62-year-old engineer, and two American colleagues from their Baghdad home 12 days ago.

The Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War) group of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, America's number one enemy in Iraq, beheaded the two Americans after demands for female prisoners to be released from jail in Iraq were not met.

Video footage of their murders was posted on the Internet.


There had been little word on the fate of the Italians since their abduction, although Al-Rai al-Aam, a leading Kuwait daily, reported on Tuesday the kidnappers had agreed to their release in exchange for a $1 million ransom.


Source by Redazione

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