Last updated: 13 April, 2013

Italian journalists freed in Syria

Four Italian journalists held hostage in Syria for more than a week have been freed, Prime Minister Mario Monti announced Saturday, and they were flown home from Turkey.

Italian media reported that the four, who worked for state television network RAI, arrived in Rome aboard a small government jet.

Monti earlier issued a statement announcing their release but giving no details.

He thanked the unidentified Italian officials involved for their “professionalism” in seeing through an operation “made all the more complicated by the extreme danger of the situation.”

The four — three freelancers and a RAI reporter — had been abducted on April 4 while filming in northern Syria.

“We were taken by an armed Islamist group that was not part of the (rebel) Free Syrian Army. It was a misunderstanding,” the reporter, Amedeo Ricucci, told the official Italian news agency ANSA from Turkey.

He said they were moved often during their days of captivity. They were not mistreated, he said.

Italian media said the four were seized as they filmed graffiti on the walls of a church in a Syrian town that used to be predominantly Christian but which now serves as a base for the Al-Nusra Front, a rebel force linked to Al-Qaeda.

A Turkish foreign ministry official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity had confirmed earlier Saturday that the four were in Turkey and Italian authorities were organising their return to Italy.

Abductions for religious, political or purely financial reasons are becoming increasingly frequent in war-torn Syria.

In February, an Italian man and two Russians kidnapped on December 12 in the west of Syria were freed as part of an exchange for militants.