Freed Italian aid worker returns home on special flight

ROME (Reuters) - Silvia Romano, an Italian aid worker kidnapped 18 months ago in East Africa, landed in Rome on Sunday a day after being freed.

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Gunmen seized Romano, who was working for an Italian charity called Africa Milele, in southeastern Kenya in November 2018. No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

She was found in Somalia, some 30 km (19 miles) outside the capital, Mogadishu, and was released thanks to efforts by the external intelligence agency, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

Romano, 24, touched down at Rome’s Ciampino airport aboard a special flight at about 2 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Escorted by masked men from the intelligence service, she temporarily removed her protective mask to wave as she descended the steps from the jet before hugging relatives waiting for her at the airport.

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

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

Romano is expected to meet prosecutors in Rome later on Sunday.

“I was strong and resisted,” Romano was quoted by Italian newspapers as saying after her release.

Conte said the task force working to free Romano had been in the final stages “for the last months”, after having proof that she was still alive. He added that details were not disclosed so as to not compromise the operation.

“We are so glad to welcome Silvia back in such a delicate moment for the country. 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 woman.

Later on Sunday, Turkish security sources said Romano was rescued after a joint effort by Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency and Italian and Somalian government authorities.

“The MIT began work in the region on determining Silvia Romano’s condition in December 2019 upon a request from Italian authorities,” the sources said.

They added that Romano was delivered to Italian authorities in Somalia on Saturday after the joint efforts.

“I am literally bursting with joy at this moment. But it is hard even only to think, please let me breathe. I need to withstand the shock, happiness is so big that it is exploding,” Silvia’s father, Enzo, was quoted as saying by several Italian newspapers on Sunday.

Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Editing by Alex Richardson and Peter Cooney