Italian hostages freed amid speculation ransom was paid

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two Italian aid workers held hostage in Iraq for three weeks were released by their captors yesterday amid reports that a $1m (£552,000) ransom had been paid to buy their freedom.

Two Italian aid workers held hostage in Iraq for three weeks were released by their captors yesterday amid reports that a $1m (£552,000) ransom had been paid to buy their freedom.

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29, were handed to the Italian Red Cross in Baghdad after they were kidnapped by gunmen from the offices of their charity in the capital on 7 September.

Arriving in Rome on a military aircraft late last night, the two women appeared to be in good health. "It went well, we have been treated with a lot of respect," said Ms Torretta.

Dr Sabah Khadim, the spokesman for the interior ministry in Iraq, said the kidnappers' motive was always to extract a ransom. Italian newspapers, quoting reports from Kuwait, claimed that $500,000 was paid via intermediaries on Monday and the rest was to be paid yesterday. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, spoke of "difficult" negotiations, and did not comment on whether a ransom had been paid.

A French negotiator said last night he had met two French journalists being held in Iraq and that an agreement had been reached to free them soon.

Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot, Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and their Syrian driver and interpreter, Mohammed al-Jundi, have been held since 20 August by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq. "They are in good health, psychologically and emotionally," a representative of the French negotiating delegation said. "After meeting them, we reached an agreement to free Christian and Georges and get an audio tape from them announcing they would be freed soon." In a statement, their kidnappers praised France's "positive steps toward the Iraqi people".

The family of the British hostage Kenneth Bigley maintained their pressure on Tony Blair. Paul Bigley, the brother of the civil engineer, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Prime Minister's efforts to date were "not good enough".

The silence from the Tawhid and Jihad group, led by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, which kidnapped Mr Bigley and his two American colleagues 13 days ago, was being interpreted as a positive sign by his family.

A two-man delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain, who returned from Iraq yesterday on a mission to plead for Mr Bigley's life, said they believed the Briton was still alive. Dr Daud Abdullah and Dr Musharraf Hussain said there had been "tremendous goodwill" among Muslim clerics and leaders to secure his release.

The Foreign Office said yesterday that it was exploring the credibility of claims on an Islamist website that the group was willing to exchange Mr Bigley for terrorism suspects being held without trial at Belmarsh prison in south London.

Comments