Italian volunteer aid worker Silvia Costanza Romano (right), wearing a khimar and face mask, embraces her mother Francesca upon her arrival at Rome’s military Ciampino airport on Sunday following her release.—AFP
Italian volunteer aid worker Silvia Costanza Romano (right), wearing a khimar and face mask, embraces her mother Francesca upon her arrival at Rome’s military Ciampino airport on Sunday following her release.—AFP

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

Gunmen seized Romano, who was working for an Italian charity called Africa Milele, in southeastern Kenya in November 2018.

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

Romano touched down at Rome’s Ciampino airport aboard a special flight at about 2 pm. “I am well, luckily, both physically and mentally. I now want to spend time with my family. I am so happy to be back after all this time,” Romano was shown saying on arrival in a video posted on daily Corriere della Sera’s website.

Escorted by masked men from the intelligence service, Romano wore a green tunic pulled up to cover her head but not her face.

Italian news agency ANSA, citing investigative sources, reported that she had converted to Islam during her time in captivity.

Romano temporarily removed her protective mask to wave as she descended the steps from the Italian air force jet before hugging relatives waiting for her at the airport. She was greeted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Di Maio.

In her home neighbourhood in Milan, church bells saluted her arrival, with many people on their balconies, SKY TG24 showed. Romano was expected to meet prosecutors in Rome later on Sunday.

Conte said that 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 revealed 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 efforts from the intelligence services, the judiciary and the defence and foreign ministries, all involved in the release the young woman.

Italian newspapers reported that Italy’s intelligence services had worked with their Somali and Turkish counterparts to free Romano.

“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.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2020