Italy's 'Two Simonas' Freed, Jubilation at Home

Wext: Thursday, 30.September. @ 00:00:00 CEST

Mijar:

28. Sep. 2004, ROME ( Reuters ) - The release of two Italian women aid workers in Iraq was greeted with joy and relief on Tuesday following three weeks of anguish in Italy over their abduction.


Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced the news to cheers in parliament, television stations broke into normal programing with special bulletins and out on the streets, ordinary Italians finally found something to smile at.


"It's like being reborn. Out of the darkness and into the light," said Annamaria Torretta, the mother of one of the two freed hostages, as she welcomed hundreds of wellwishers besieging her Rome apartment.

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both aged 29, were abducted from their Baghdad office on Sept 7. along with two Iraqi colleagues. Nothing had been heard of them since until early Tuesday evening when news of their release broke.

"This is an extraordinary moment of joy," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Al Jazeera television aired footage of the two Simonas, as they are fondly known in Italy, soon after their liberation.

It showed them wearing black veils, which they later lifted, smiling and chatting. They looked well and were immediately put on a plane home, which was due to arrive at Rome's Ciampino airport at 10:30 p.m.

"They will be in Rome tonight and will be able to hug their families," said a delighted Berlusconi.


RANSOM PAID ?

A Kuwaiti daily said earlier on Tuesday the women's captors had agreed to free them for a $1 million ransom.

Berlusconi told parliament the secret services had located the whereabouts of the hostages, but rather than risk using violence to secure their release, the Italian government had preferred to negotiate.

He said the breakthrough came early on Tuesday "after a night which led us to a very difficult choice with two lines of pursuit which could have been mutually conflictual."

He gave no further details and did not mention any ransom.

But questions over whether or not money had been paid mattered little in a country which had been transfixed by the drama of two women who went to Iraq to help local school children and who had nothing to do with the war effort.

"It's beautiful, beautiful because it gives us all hope," said Sara Sisto, who works in the Bridge for Baghdad aid organization that employed the two Simonas.

"The thing that I wish for the most is that this war finishes as soon as possible," she added.

Other colleagues unveiled a huge peace flag outside their Rome offices and handed out flowers to passers-by.

"I just feel joy in my heart. For so much time I couldn't bear to watch the television anymore with this news of the girls who had been kidnapped," said housewife Flora Rinaldi.

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

Previous kidnapping crises put huge pressure on Berlusconi to subdue his support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq and bring home some 2,700 Italian troops deployed in the country.

But he has always refused to back down and the abduction of the two Simonas galvanized Italy's usually splintered political class, with opposition parties dropping their criticism of government policy over Iraq to guarantee a united front.



Source: Reuters








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