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Two Italian Girls released/photo + Two aid workers and six Egyptians

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posted on Sep, 28 2004 @ 04:05 PM

    Pari and Torretta were kidnapped on Sept. 7 along with their Iraqi colleagues from the Baghdad office of their aid agency "Un Ponte Per ..." ("A Bridge To...") . Two different groups claimed responsibilty for the abductions, demanding the withdrawal of Italian troops from the country or the release of Iraqi female prisoners. The same two groups later put out Web statements saying the two Italians had been killed, but the Italian government cast doubt on the claims' authenticity.

    News of the release came after a Muslim leader from Italy met with a local Muslim association in Baghdad on Tuesday to press for their freedom, though it was not immediately known if there was a connection. The two women, both 29-year-olds, had been working on school and water projects in Iraq.

    Italian aid workers released

    Four aid workers and six Egyptians have been released by their captors in Iraq. Charity workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both aged 29, had been missing for almost three weeks. The two women were handed to the Italian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, reported Aljazeera. The pair were snatched from their Baghdad office on 7 September and had not been heard of since. The women worked for the NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad, and were involved in an aid initiative aimed at boosting school attendance in Basra and Baghdad, including in the capital's Sadr City slums.

    Berlusconi confirms
    The women's release has been confirmed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "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."

    "We have maintained absolute reserve throughout all this, but we have worked night and day to solve this problem," Berlusconi said. Two Iraqi NGO workers who were also captured with the Italian women have also been freed. Mahnaz Bassam worked for Intersos, another Italian NGO, and Iraqi engineer Rahad worked for A Bridge to Baghdad. Five Egyptians who worked for the telecoms giant Orascom were also released adding to one company employee freed yesterday.

    Father thankful
    The father of Simona Pari told he was thankful for the support he recieved. "The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed to us the release of my daughter and the others. We were watching Aljazeera for updates", Luciano Pari said.

    "No kidnapping party called us and we depended on the information provided by the Crisis Unit of the Italian foreign ministry", Pari added. "I would like to thank you, Aljazeera, and the whole Arab world for supporting us in those hard times", he said. Pari said, "I did not speak with my daughter yet due to technical reasons, maybe I will in a few hours".

    Increased speculation
    Mystery surrounds the identity of the two Italians' captors. The Italians were seized in broad daylight in central Baghdad very close to the heavily-guarded Green Zone. Observers say the group of 20 armed men who carried out the operation wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms and said they were working for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

    Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, a well respected Sunni cleric who has previously brokered the release of foreign hostages, had told reporters in Baghdad the Italian aid workers had visited him and told him they were being threatened.

    "They were scared", he said. "They told me that someone threatened them." When asked who was behind the threats, al-Kubaisi said: "We suspect some foreign intelligence".

    Eight Hostages Are Released in Iraq

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Two kidnapped Italian aid workers were freed Tuesday after three weeks of captivity in Iraq, and six other hostages in the country were also released. American forces bombed a suspected militant hide-out in Fallujah and the military claimed its frequent strikes have taken a toll on the network of Jordanian-born terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    But in a sign of continuing insurgent strength, dozens of militants - some waving banners of al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group - drove freely through the streets of another central Iraqi city, Samarra, where U.S. and Iraqi commanders had claimed success weeks ago in suppressing the insurgency. The gunmen waved automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, stopping cars and taking music tapes from passengers - giving them tapes with Quranic recitations in exchange.

    Jordan's King Abdullah II warned in an interview published Tuesday that extremists - "the best organized faction" in Iraq - would emerge the victors if elections are held on schedule in January amid the current chaos.

    The release of Italians Simona Pari and Simona Torretta brought a sense of relief to their home country - which has seen two Italian hostages killed since April and feared the two women had met the same fate after claims of their death were posted on the Web last week. While the Italians were being held, other kidnappers beheaded two American hostages.

    "Finally a moment of joy," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, announcing to the Parliament in Rome that the two Italians and two Iraqis kidnapped with them were handed over to the Red Cross in Baghdad.

    "The two girls are well and will be able to return to their loved ones tonight," he said, to cheers from lawmakers.

[edit on 28-9-2004 by fanoose]


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