Giovedì, 18 Ottobre 2018
ROME

Syria hostage ordeal over for reporter Quirico

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Rome, September 9 - Veteran La Stampa war
correspondent Domenico Quirico celebrated his first day of
freedom Monday after five months of often-brutal captivity in
Syria along with Belgian academic Pierre Piccinin.
Quirico told Rome prosecutors he had feared for his life,
especially at the start.
Quirico, 61, told the prosecutors, who are obliged to treat
the case as a criminal one under Italian law, that he and
Belgian academic Pierre Piccinin were stopped in April by armed
men on two pick-up trucks.
"We were blindfolded for the first few days: I was afraid I
would be killed," he said.
Quirico said he thought he and Piccinin were held captive
by three rebel groups, alternately.
He confirmed that he was subjected to two mock executions
after two failed escape bids.
He said he never saw his captors' faces.
Quirico said the pair were sold by the Syrian Free Army.
"We were beaten daily and - I am duty-bound to say this -
were only treated well by an al-Qaeda group".
Quirico landed in Rome early on Monday. He disappeared in
Syria 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'.
Quirico's wife and two daughters said "thank heaven
Domenico is back...it's been a nightmare. You can tell he went
through a lot, just look how thin he is, almost emaciated...but
we're so glad he's in relatively good shape".
Quirico told prosecutors he had lost four kg during his
time in the rebels' hands.
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 Eleonora, 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 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.
Piccinin, a Belgian national abducted with Quirico,
also landed in Rome with the reporter before returning to
Belgium.
He said he had overheard rebels talking about using
chemical weapons, and not their being used by the Syrian regime,
but Quirico dismissed this report, saying "we were in the dark
about everything".
''Hope never left us,'' said Premier Letta 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.

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