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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Italian hostages describe captivity
The two Simonas arriving in Rome
At times, the hostages feared they would be killed

Smiling and extremely relieved, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta arrived in Italy on Tuesday evening.

Shortly afterwards they were questioned by Italian investigators trying to shed light on their 21-day-long captivity.

Details of their replies filtering in the Italian media suggest the women were not mistreated as their captors became satisfied they were aid workers helping the poor in Iraq - and not Western spies.

"We were treated well, with warmth and solidarity," Simona Pari said in quotes carried by Italian news agency Ansa.

"They understood our work and from that moment on the situation improved," said the other hostage, Simona Torrettta.

Our faith helped us a lot, along with interior strength, because you must give yourself strength on your own
Simona Torretta

"They were people who treated us with a lot of respect and dignity."

Ms Pari and Ms Torretta said the kidnappers had possessed no list or pictures of the aid workers when they stormed the Baghdad office of the "A Bridge to..." charity they worked for.

Instead, they asked everyone their name before taking four of them away - the two Italians and two Iraqi colleagues.

The Italian hostages said they were kept together and in the same place all the time, with the exception of a quick move the day after the abduction.

In the beginning, their two Iraqi colleagues were also with them, but they were taken away after a few days.

The women told investigating judges they had been kept blindfolded for almost all the time and had never seen their captors' faces. They were also not sure whether their jailers - who spoke English - had been changed.

Solidarity

"There were times when we feared we'd be killed," Ms Torretta said. "But at other times we laughed together.

"Our faith helped us a lot, along with interior strength, because you must give yourself strength on your own."

She described how the captors came to apologise to the women as they were about to release them.

We have learnt about this great solidarity by the Iraqi people, which is like a vote of thanks for all the work we have done over these years
Simona Torretta
"Religious people who taught us the principles of Islam in the end came to apologise and ask forgiveness," Ms Torretta said.

The captors even gave them a box of sweets for the journey, she said.

"We have learnt about this great solidarity by the Iraqi people, which is like a vote of thanks for all the work we have done over these years," Ms Torretta said.

"Now I have to stay with my family, because we did not know anything about what was happening here. We were very surprised by all this solidarity."

Maurizio Scelli of the Italian Red Cross was present when the women were handed over on Tuesday.

He told journalists the dresses the two women were wearing at the time came from their captors.

"There were no women among them," Mr Scelli said.





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