TRIPOLI Four Italian journalists abducted in Libya by suspected loyalists of fugitive Muammar Gaddafi were freed unharmed on Thursday after being kept in his Tripoli compound.
The four, seized in the chaos of fighting on Wednesday, arrived in a central Tripoli hotel after being rescued from an apartment. They said their driver had been shot dead in front of them during their capture.
"They found us at the Bab al-Aziziya compound. We were at the Gaddafi compound," one of the journalists, Elisabetta Rosaspina, told Reuters.
Two of the journalists worked for Corriere della Sera, while the others were reporters for La Stampa and Avvenire newspapers.
They were rescued by two Libyans who broke into the Tripoli apartment, Corriere said on its website.
"I am well, I'm thinking of the family and the people close to the driver who lost his life helping us journalists do our job," Avvenire's Claudio Monici said in an interview broadcast on Sky Italia television soon after they were released.
The kidnappers beat up the driver before killing him, said Monici, who was close to tears. He said the driver had been due to meet his family in Tripoli.
"We were shoulder to shoulder when they shot him," Monici said. "I saw he was begging for his life." The group was later escorted out of the hotel by Italian diplomats.
The men who surrounded the car on Wednesday appeared to be angry and nervous, and accused the Italians of being part of a NATO campaign to bomb and kill Libyans, he added.
Italian officials had earlier said they were seized near Zawiyah, on the coastal highway 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli. But one of the kidnapped reporters said they were abducted inside the Libyan capital.
Once Gaddafi's closest ally in Europe, Italy switched sides in April to support the rebel movement.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing in Tripoli and Catherine Hornby in Rome; Editing by Maria Golovnina in Tunis, and Robert Woodward)