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Italian aid worker back home after kidnapping

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Italian volunteer aid worker Silvia Romano embraces her father Enzo upon her arrival in Rome following her release by a militant group. AFP

Italian aid worker back home after kidnapping

Silvia Romano, an Italian aid worker kidnapped 18 months ago in Kenya, touched down in Rome on Sunday a day after being freed.

Intelligence agents located her in Somalia, some 30km outside the capital, Mogadishu, and were able to work to release her, said Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio.

Italian media stressed that Romano had been rescued through joint efforts by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, Italian and Somali intelligence services, reported Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.

Romano, 24, touched down at Rome-Ciampino International Airport aboard a government plane at around 2pm (1200 GMT). Donning a surgical mask, impermeable apron, disposable gloves and boots, she was escorted off the plane by masked intelligence agents.

She hugged her mother and other relatives and touched elbows instead of shaking hands with Di Maio. She was then greeted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Italy’s second all-news channel SKY TG24 showed revelry in her home neighbourhood in Milan, where church bells welcomed her arrival, and many people celebrated her return from their balconies.

Romano was 23 and working as a volunteer for an Italian charity NGO called Africa Milele Onlus at an orphanage in Chakama village in southeast Kenya. She was seized by gunmen from a small rural hotel in Kilifi town in November 2018.

Chakama is about 60km inland from the coastal town of Malindi, which is popular with Italian tourists and expatriates.

During the attack on November 20, 2018, the armed assailants shot and injured five people in the orphanage, including three children.

No details were released about Romano’s release, or about the identity or motivation of her captors. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

“The state abandons no one,” Di Maio tweeted on Saturday.

The kidnapping of foreigners is relatively rare in Kenya, but have had a damaging effect on the country’s crucial tourist economy.

In April last year, two Cuban doctors were kidnapped in northeastern Kenya and whisked to Somalia before $1.5 million was demanded their release.

Kenyan police sources said the kidnapping bore the hallmarks of al-Shabaab, a militant outfit that has been waging an insurgency against Somalia’s foreign-backed government for over a decade.

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