Italian govt hails release of volunteer kidnapped in Kenya

ROME (AP) — An Italian woman who was kidnapped in Kenya while volunteering as an aid worker has been freed in Somalia after an 18-month ordeal, Italian officials said Saturday.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte hailed the release of Silvia Romano, who was a 23-year-old volunteer with the Italy-based humanitarian group Africa Milele when she was abducted in the coastal trading center of Chakama in November 2018.

“Thanks to the men and women of the foreign intelligence services,” Conte tweeted. “Silvia, we’re waiting for you in Italy!”

The head of the Italian parliament’s committee on security, Raffaele Volpi, said Romano appeared in good condition after her rescue about 30 kilometers from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

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“She’s in good shape. Obviously she’s had a rough time from being imprisoned, but she’s OK,” the ANSA news agency quoted Volpi as saying.

Italian news reports said that after her kidnapping, Romano ended up in the hands of militants linked to Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic extremists.

Al-Shabab has been blamed for a series of kidnappings of foreigners along Kenya’s coast. Kenya said the abductions of four foreigners prompted it to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight al-Shabab members.

Romano was seized as gunmen looking for a “mgeni” – Swahili for visitor – fired weapons indiscriminately during an attack in Chakama, according to Ronald Kazungu Ngala, a student whose education was being sponsored by Africa Milele who said he witnessed the Nov. 20, 2018 kidnapping.

After sharing his account with The Associated Press, Ngala continued seeking information about Romano’s fate. On Saturday, he said he was overjoyed to hear she had been freed.

“I feel so happy. We didn’t know whether they had killed her or done something bad. Living with the uncertainty was painful,” Ngala, 20, said.

Ngala said Kenyan authorities questioned him after the attack and initially thought they had zeroed in on her location but “eventually her trail went silent.”

“When I see her on TV speaking, that’s when I will completely believe because there were many occasions when authorities here suggested she was close to being rescued and then nothing,” he said.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who also announced Romano’s liberation on Twitter, said, “The government never leaves anyone behind.”

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AP writer Tom Odula reported from Nairobi.

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