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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Profiles: Italians held hostage
Italian hostage Simona Torretta
Ms Torretta was involved in projects to improve education for children
The two Italian aid workers released after being held hostage for three weeks in Iraq share the same name and the same passion for their work.

Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, work for a Baghdad-based Italian non-governmental organisation.

On 7 September a group of armed men stormed their office, kidnapping them along with two Iraqi colleagues.

The four have been freed and the two Italians handed over to the Italian Red Cross in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

They are expected to return to Italy later on Tuesday.

Determined

Both women were involved in educational projects in the Iraqi capital.

Simona Torretta is head of the office of A Bridge to Baghdad aid agency, and has worked in Iraq since 1998.

The youngest of three sisters, Ms Torretta is enrolled at the Cultural Anthropology faculty at Rome's La Sapienza university.

In Baghdad, she was working on a project to reorganise and reopen the country's national library.

Her sister described her as determined and aware of the dangers her job involved.

"She loves that people more than anything else in the world," 26-year-old Manuela Torretta was quoted as telling Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

"It's more than a mission for her, it's a life need that is born in the depths of her heart."

'Dangers are everywhere'

In an archive interview with Italy's La Corriere della Sera newspaper, Simona Torretta said the women were aware of the security risk faced in Baghdad.

Italian hostage Simona Pari
Armed men seized the two women from their offices in broad daylight
"The dangers are everywhere, we are used to living with this situation, as Iraqis have been doing for over a year now," she said.

"Up to now we have had no threats, we are working untroubled alongside the Iraqis."

Ms Pari and Ms Torretta were the first foreign women to be seized since a female Japanese hostage was held for a week in mid-April.

Simona Pari is from the northern Italian university town of Bologna where she had studied philosophy. She read for a Masters in International Development in Rome.

Her particular interest is said to be children and she has also worked for international aid group Save The Children. She continued to focus on children and educational projects when she arrived in Baghdad about a year ago.

Both Ms Torretta and Ms Pari were working on school projects including one in the mainly Shia district of Baghdad, Sadr City.

Ms Pari is quoted on the organisation's website as saying that religious leaders had welcomed the project.

"The imam have spoken in the mosques about our projects, telling families to get involved, even during Friday prayers," she said.

The group A Bridge to Baghdad is an Italian NGO set up in 1991 following the first Gulf War.

In Baghdad, the group runs several water and educational projects.




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