ROME: Italy cheered the liberation of Silvia Romano, an aid worker who returned to Rome after being held captive for 18 months in East Africa by Somali militants connected to the Al-Shabab terrorist group.
According to Turkish security sources, Romano, 25, who said she converted to Islam after reading the Qur’an while in captivity, was rescued after a joint effort by Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency and Italian and Somali government authorities.
Investigative sources quoted in the Italian press said Romano, a volunteer at an Italian-run orphanage in Kenya, had been located in December.
She was handed to Italian authorities in Somalia on Saturday after being freed during a thunderstorm near the capital Mogadishu.
Romano was abducted in November 2018 from the village of Chakama, where she worked for Italian humanitarian group Africa Milele helping educate orphans through play.
Her kidnappers, who were carrying guns and machetes, fired at random as they fled on motorcycles, wounding five people, including three children.
For part of her captivity, Romano is believed to have been held in a cave with other hostages near the Somali village of Buulo Fulaay.
She was greeted upon her arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome by her family, who were flanked by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
The safe arrival in Italy of the young woman, who was wearing a traditional green Islamic African tunic, was celebrated in her home city Milan with peals of church bells and neighbors applauding and singing from their balconies.
“Fortunately I’m well, physically and mentally,” Romano told government officials. “I’m really happy, and now I just want to spend time with my family.”
She confirmed that she had become a Muslim, but denied reports that she had been forced to marry a militant.
“It’s true, I converted to Islam. It was my free choice. There was no coercion on the part of the kidnappers, who always treated me with humanity. It’s not true, however, that I was forced to marry. I wasn’t subjected to physical torture or violence,” she said during a debriefing immediately after hugging her relatives, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
“I was strong and resisted,” Romano told Conte. She said she converted to Islam after having read the Qur’an.
“I begged my jailers to give me a book, and they came with the holy book. I read it through fully,” she told the prosecutor in charge of the investigations of her kidnapping.
“After lots of deep meditation on the teaching of the holy book, I decided I was ready for my conversion. It was completely my decision. Nobody forced me. My name now is Silvia Aisha.”
Conte described her freeing as “great news” while Italy struggles in its fight against COVID-19. “We are so glad to welcome Silvia back at such a delicate moment for the country,” he said.