Italian aid worker returns home after release by militants

Silvia Romano landed back in Rome to meet her family after 18 months of captivity

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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 Ms Romano, who was working for an Italian charity called Africa Milele, in northern Kenya in November 2018. No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, which brought fears of an upsurge in attacks by militant Islamists.

She was found in Somalia, some 30 kilometres outside of the capital of Mogadishu, and was released thanks to efforts by the external intelligence agency, Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

Ms Romano touched down at Rome's Ciampino airport aboard a special flight on Sunday afternoon and was escorted by masked men from the intelligence service.

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

"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.

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

“I was strong, and resisted,” Ms Romano was quoted by Italian newspapers as saying after her release.

Italian news reports said that after her kidnapping, Ms 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. It has periodically staged attacks in Kenya, including an attack on a university in April 2015 in which 148 people were killed.

Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported on its website that Italy paid a ransom to free the woman.

Prime Minister Conte said that the task force working to free Ms Romano had been in the final stages "for the last months", after having proof that she was still alive.

"We are so glad to welcome Silvia back in such a delicate moment for the country," the premier said.