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Syrian-hostage nightmare ends for Italian reporter Quirico

Reportedly in good condition but 'not treated well'

09 September, 10:22
Syrian-hostage nightmare ends for Italian reporter Quirico (ANSA) - Rome, September 9 - Italian journalist Domenico Quirico, a veteran war reporter with Turin-daily La Stampa who was kidnapped in Syria in April, landed in Rome early on Monday.

Quirico had disappeared on April 9. The reporter landed at Rome's Ciampino airport soon after midnight and appeared tired but in good health. ''I have lived the past five months as if I were on Mars,'' he told reporters who welcomed him at the airport together with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. ''They did not treat me well and I was scared', he said of his abductors. 'The revolution betrayed me'.

Prosecutors on Monday morning will question the reporter, who will meet again with his wife and two daughters.

Italian government sources first revealed on Sunday night that the reporter had been released and was already on board a plane taking him back to Italy. The news came after two weeks of fear mixed with hope for good news. La Stampa editor-in-chief Mario Calabresi welcomed the news as 'wonderful', confirming he had been informed directly by Premier Enrico Letta, by the foreign minister and by Quirico's family, his wife and daughters Metella and Eleoniora, who last June launched a moving appeal for their father's release.

''We are excited and happy..we can't wait to hug him,'' Eleonora Quirico told ANSA.

Quirico, 62, entered Syria from Lebanon on April 6 saying he would be out of touch for a few days. On April 9 he made his last phone call before going missing.

On June 6 he made a brief call to his wife Giulietta from where he was held captive, leading to hopes his release was imminent. Concern was high lately due to possible US-led military intervention in Syria after allegations of chemical weapons use by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Pier Piccinin, a Belgian national abducted with Quirico, also landed in Rome with the reporter before returning to Belgium.

''Hope never left us,'' said Premier Letta first commenting the release while the presidential palace praised in a statement the foreign ministry and intelligence services.

The ordeal for Quirico, a veteran reporter who was already briefly abducted in 2011 in Libya with three Italian colleagues, started in April as he was trying to reach Homs, a key city in the anti-Assad uprising. He was travelling from the Lebanese border in his fourth trip to Syria to report on the civil war. He made his last call on April 9 before disappearing. His family and newspaper kept quiet for over 20 days at the recommendation of authorities so that possible contacts with his abductors were not jeopardized.

But on the 30th of that month, given the void of information on the reporter's fate, the newspaper made the news public. The initial silence surrounding the abduction led many to fear for the reporter's life but his family, newspaper and authorities never gave up hope, especially after his wife spoke to him in June.

In the past few weeks Bonino had been ''cautiously confident'', a sentiment she did not express in the case of another Italian abducted in Syria, Jesuit priest Paolo Dall'Oglio, who was reported missing in the war-torn country in July.

''I remained not just determined but confident because bad reports emerge immediately on that side of the world,'' she said at the end of August.

Copasir - Italy's parliamentary committee on intelligence and security - had been recently briefed by the director of DIS - the Department for information and Security - Giampiero Massolo, who said the reporter was believed to be in the hands of an ordinary criminal gang and that negotiations were ongoing.

Negotiations for Quirico's release reportedly benefited from the good relations established by Italian diplomats and intelligence officials with Syrian insurgents. Moreover, the reporter was reportedly not in the hands of jihadist rebels after a certain point. No ransom was paid for his release, according to initial reports.

Bonino told broadcaster Sky-Tg24 this is no time for details. ''There will be time,'' she assured.