Released Italian aid worker safely home

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Silvia Romano, an Italian aid worker kidnapped 18 months ago in East Africa, landed in Rome at the weekend a day after being freed.

Gunmen seized Romano, working for an Italian charity Africa Milele, in northern Kenya in November 2018.

She was found in Somalia, outside Mogadishu and released thanks to efforts by the external intelligence agency, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

Romano touched down at Rome’s Ciampino airport aboard a special flight.

“I am well both physically and mentally. I want to spend time with my family. I am happy to be back after all this time,” Romano was shown saying on arrival in a video on daily Corriere della Sera’s website.

Escorted by masked men from the intelligence service, Romano wore a green tunic covering her head but not her face. Italian news agency ANSA, citing investigative sources, reported she converted to Islam while in captivity.

Romano temporarily removed her protective mask to wave as she descended the steps from the Italian air force jet before hugging relatives waiting for her.

She was greeted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Di Maio.

In her home neighbourhood in Milan, church bells saluted her arrival, with people on their balconies, SKY TG24 showed.

Romano was expected to meet prosecutors in Rome later.

Conte said the task force working to free Romano was in the final stages “for the last months”, after proof she was still alive. Details were not revealed so as to not compromise the operation.

“We are glad to welcome Silvia back. The State is always there and will always be there,” Conte said.

He thanked the intelligence services, the judiciary and the defence and foreign ministries, all involved in the release of the young woman.

Italian newspapers reported Italy’s intelligence services worked with Somali and Turkish counterparts to free Romano.

“I am bursting with joy. It is hard to think, please let me breathe. I need to withstand the shock, happiness is so big it is exploding,” Silvia’s father Enzo was quoted as saying by several Italian newspapers.