Italians treated, hid Iraqi insurgents in Hostage Deal

August 25th, 2005  
Duty Honor Country

Topic: Italians treated, hid Iraqi insurgents in Hostage Deal

ROME (AP) Italy's Red Cross treated four Iraqi insurgents and hid them from U.S. forces in exchange for the freedom of two Italian aid workers kidnapped last year in Baghdad, an official said in an interview published Thursday.

Maurizio Scelli, the outgoing chief of the Italian Red Cross, told La Stampa newspaper that he kept the deal secret from U.S. officials, complying with "a nonnegotiable condition" imposed by Iraqi mediators who helped him secure the release of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who were abducted on Sept. 7 and freed Sept. 28.

"The mediators asked us to save the lives of four alleged terrorists wanted by the Americans who were wounded in combat," Scelli was quoted as saying. "We hid them and brought them to Red Cross doctors, who operated on them."

They took the wounded insurgents to a Baghdad hospital in a jeep and in an ambulance, smuggling them through two U.S. checkpoints by hiding them under blankets and boxes of medicine, Scelli reportedly said.

Also as part of the deal, four Iraqi children suffering from leukemia were brought to Italy for treatment, he said.

Scelli told the newspaper he informed the Italian government of the deal and of the decision to hide it from the U.S. through Gianni Letta, an undersecretary in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government who has been in charge of Italy's hostage crises in Iraq.

"Keeping quiet with the Americans about our efforts to free the hostages was an irrevocable condition to guarantee the safety of the hostages and ourselves," he told La Stampa. He said Letta agreed.

Officials at the Italian Red Cross headquarters in Rome said Scelli was out of the office and could not be immediately reached.

In a statement Thursday, the Italian government stopped short of denying it knew about the deal but said Scelli acted independently and that the government "never conditioned or oriented his action, which ... was developed in complete autonomy."

The statement also did not directly address whether or not Italy had kept the U.S. in the dark about Scelli's efforts, but reiterated that Italy has always maintained a "full and reciprocal" cooperation with its American allies in Iraq.

Scelli told Italian TV news TG2 that Italian authorities had no direct role in the deal and that he informed the government of his efforts "only informally."

"We have always claimed this operation as our own. The contacts were held by us, contacts with Iraqi personnel, contacts with the mediators," Scelli said, adding that Red Cross officials had not conducted direct negotiations with the kidnappers.

At least eight Italians have been kidnapped in Iraq, and two were killed. An intelligence officer who was escorting a hostage to freedom mistakenly was killed by U.S. fire in Baghdad in March.

Rome's handling of its hostage situations has come under scrutiny, with many at home and abroad contending that Italy paid ransoms for their release.

Berlusconi's government has denied that ransom were paid, but some lawmakers have indicated money might have changed hands.

August 25th, 2005  
Well i guess its better than handing them a check for a million dollars, As they did last time.
August 25th, 2005  

Source:BBC News

The Italian Red Cross treated four Iraqi insurgents to secure the release of two Italian women held hostage last year, a Red Cross official has said.

Maurizio Scelli, the outgoing head of the Italian Red Cross, said the deal had been kept secret from the US.

"Had the Americans known about it, this could have damaged the subtle strategy," Mr Scelli told Italy's Rai radio after speaking to a newspaper.

Two aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, were held for three weeks.

Mr Scelli - who first revealed the story to the Italian daily La Stampa - said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-man man, Gianni Letta, was aware of the deal.

"He acknowledged it and - albeit with a thousand recommendations - he told me to go ahead with it," Mr Scelli said.

Mr Berlusconi's office has not commented on the report. Italy has always denied paying a ransom for "the two Simonas".

Agent's advice

Mr Scelli said he did not know the identities of the insurgents his agency had treated.

"We collected them in the place we had been told and then took them to hospital with a series of precautions for them to be admitted into hospital as quickly as possible and without any hindrance," he told Rai.

Italian president touches the coffin of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari arriving from Baghdad to Ciampino's airport
Nicola Calipari was killed helping to free another hostage

He added that US checkpoints were among the hindrances he was referring to.

An Italian secret service agent, Nicola Calipari, was killed by US gunfire at a checkpoint in Iraq in March as he escorted another Italian hostage to freedom.

The US and Italy disagreed about the circumstances of the killing, briefly straining relations between the allies.

Mr Scelli said Mr Calipari had been consulted about the deal to free Ms Torretta and Ms Pari.

The two women stunned Italy by defending the Iraqi insurgency on their release, saying there was a difference between guerrillas and freedom fighters.

Source:BBC News
Italy split over hostages' views

After three weeks of complete silence followed by death claims on two separate Arabic web sites, few in Italy dared hope the two abducted aid workers would resurface from their captivity unharmed and smiling.

Simona Pari (left) and Simona Torretta
The aid workers have been accused of being "ungrateful"

But nobody had predicted that after all the candlelit vigils, silent marches and displays of national unity before their release, the women would stir up such a political storm right after their return home.

On their first day of freedom, instead of thanking Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for securing their release Simona Pari and Simona Torretta urged the government to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

There are reports that a $1m ransom was paid for their release, although the government has officially denied this.

From the very start, the former hostages said they wished to carry on their aid work in Baghdad and expressed gratitude to the Arab countries, Iraq's freedom fighters and the Muslim world for working towards their liberation.

You have to distinguish between terrorism and resistance
--Simona Torretta

They said they once had a knife held to their throat, and had lived in constant fear of being killed "until the moment we stepped on the airplane".

But despite their ordeal, they insisted their perception of Iraq as an occupied country struggling for freedom remained unchanged.

"Guerrilla warfare is legitimate, but I am against the kidnapping of civilians," Simona Torretta, who speaks Arabic and was already based in Iraq before Saddam Hussain was ousted, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"You have to distinguish between terrorism and resistance - I said it before and I repeat it today," she added.

Ms Torretta went on to describe Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's administration as "a puppet government in the hands of the Americans".


For more than 20 days, papers of all political colours portrayed the two volunteers as national examples of selflessness and compassion.

It is still unclear whether they were comfortable in captivity or were indeed happy to have been freed
Alessandro Ce
Northern League MP

But after speaking their minds, the "daisies of peace", as they had been dubbed, became the object of fierce criticism by some politicians and part of the press.

They were described as cold, patronizing and "ungrateful" towards the government, and were rebuked for failing to mention the other victims of kidnapping.

The front page of the right-wing daily newspaper Libero carried the headline "The lies of the Simonas".

Giuliano Ferrara, editor of daily Il Foglio and long-time ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, suggested the women should return the sum paid by the government for their release by collecting it from among Italy's "valiant pacifists".

The president of the north-eastern Veneto region, Giancarlo Galan, said he was "astonished and offended" by the "fanaticism" of the two.

Northern League MP Alessandro Ce meanwhile wondered how they were really feeling. "It is still unclear whether they were comfortable in captivity or were indeed happy to have been freed," he said.

Political truce over

There had been great anticipation among the general public in Italy to hear the two aid workers talk about their kidnapping.

Simona Pari gets off the plane at Rome's Fiumicino airport
The kaftans worn by the two women were a present from the abductors

Many were expecting tearful accounts of abuse, loneliness and anguish.

Others hoped there would be more transparency than after the release of three Italian contractors working for an American security company in Iraq in June this year.

Umberto Cupertino, Maurizio Agliana and Salvatore Stefio have never told their side of the story, which leaves several questions open as to what exactly they were doing in Iraq and the conditions and circumstances of their release.

Ms Pari and Ms Torretta eventually thanked the government and explained they were not aware of the beheadings of the two Americans and of British engineer Ken Bigley's plight until after their first statements.

But the much-praised collaboration between government and opposition to free the women is definitely over, and the country is once again split between those who support the Italian presence in Iraq and those who think it is time to bring the troops back home.

Source:BBC News

Italian hostages describe captivity

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.

"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.


"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.

August 25th, 2005  

Originally Posted by Rabs
Well i guess its better than handing them a check for a million dollars, As they did last time.
Source:BBC News

Italy's ransom dilemma

A debate is raging in Italy on whether paying ransom money to insurgent groups in Iraq is an acceptable strategy, three days after kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena was released from captivity and her rescuer killed by "friendly fire".

The Italian media have been carrying unconfirmed reports that 6m euros ($7.9m, 4.1m) changed hands to free Ms Sgrena.

The government has not confirmed the claims, but for the first time there has been no official denial either.

When two young Italian aid workers were freed in September 2004, then Foreign Minister Franco Frattini denied that a ransom had been paid.

But MP Giuliano Selva said the denial was "purely official", and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke of a "difficult choice which had to be made".

'Very likely'

The happy ending for several Italian kidnap dramas in Iraq is in stark contrast to the tragic outcome of other similar episodes, including the plight of British-Irish charity worker Margaret Hassan, who had been living and working in Iraq for several decades.

During her captivity, Tony Blair repeated several times that negotiating with the abductors was not an option - in line with the policy of the US, which leads the coalition forces.

The Italian government knows very well that negotiating with the insurgents is against the rules.

But it is equally aware it cannot count on public support if something goes tragically wrong.

Mr Berlusconi took the decision to deploy troops to Iraq at a time when 80% of Italians were against the war.

The public now stands by and large behind Italy's military presence there, mainly because the mission is seen as playing a crucial role in helping the country get back on its feet.

Had Ms Sgrena's captivity ended with her death, and possibly a gruesome video, the opposition, backed by public opinion, would have had a powerful political weapon to call for an immediate withdrawal.


Talking to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno said thought it "very likely" that a ransom had been paid, and justified the move.

"It is far preferable to pay a price that is relatively low compared to the value of a human life and to the political price of being blackmailed into pulling out the troops," he said.

But in a comment published by La Repubblica daily newspaper, Giuseppe D'Avanzo called Italy's ransom paying strategy the fruit of a "collective hypocrisy", which, he says, is difficult to "sweep under the carpet".

"We [Italians] are a community which, in times of tragedy, seeks, urges and invokes a bloodless solution, regardless of the material or symbolic price we have to pay," it says.

"These conditions are excellent for those who conduct the blackmail, and politically adventurous for those, like the government, who have to tackle it."

"Maybe, on a day when the country pays due tribute to a generous state official, it is also appropriate for us to feel the responsibility of this collective hypocrisy," he concluded in a reference to secret service agent Nicola Calipari, who died shortly after securing Ms Sgrena's release.

August 25th, 2005  
Duty Honor Country
Is Italian Guy around to give us his 2 cents on this???
August 25th, 2005  

Originally Posted by Doody
Is Italian Guy around to give us his 2 cents on this???
On it will drag him here as soon as possible ........ last i saw him 1 hour ago writing a 100 page report .......

August 26th, 2005  
seems a bit alarming that they smuggled the insurgents they were operating on between checkpoints....
August 27th, 2005  
Italian Guy
Hi guys. I'm extremely busy these weeks so I'm sorry if I can't stick around the boards as often as I would like to. Anyways Sword showed me this post and asked me to contribute.
All I can say is that the guy who released those statements is a very good guy and has to be believed. He's nothing like a socialist and has exposed the leftists lies on Iraq for months. He is just great at what he does. And he said he did not know the identities of the insurgents his agency had treated.
That being said, yes the Italian policy with regard to hostages is different than the US or British (think about Bigley): it is a policy of treating and negotiating with the terrorists because the life of the hostages themselves is considered to be the foremost priority. That can explain the news. Explain doesn't mean justify though, because I (as increasingly more Italians) do not agree on this policy. Like the Americans and the Brits say, if we negotiate with them their clout will only grow and our credibility sink.
On top of that, I can say something about those two girls: they are socialist, they are against our government and were against the war. What they did immediately after been freed (by the government) was NOT thanking the gov and the intelligence. Oh no. It was thanking the kidnappers for the kind way they treated them and they went on Tv for days saying oh how nice they were to us and they gave us a copy of the Koran and food oh and thank you to all of those Iraqi women who asked for our liberation and the war is wrong and the americans are killing and blah blah blah. When they returned home the even got down the aircraft dressed in Iraqi clothes.
The Italian people were outraged: even many from the left recognized that they should have thanked the government. Most of the people here found them unpleasant, ungrateful and said well if that was that cool to be there why did you ask to be liberated on those videos? Why don't you just go back? In the end yeah they thanked the gov.... like 4 or 5 days later. That was my 2 cent on the story.
Just shameful we treated 4 terrorists in exchange for these two girlies and had a brave man from the intelligence dead to save a Communist reporter's life.
August 27th, 2005  

The Italian Red Cross has said it treated four "presumed Iraqi terrorists" at its Baghdad hospital to secure the release of two kidnapped Italian aid workers, according to a media report.
Maurizio Scelli, the outgoing commissioner of the aid organization, is reported to have said the deal to free the two women -- Simona Pari and Simona Torretta -- was kept secret from U.S. officials.

"The mediators asked us to treat and save the lives of four presumed terrorists sought by the Americans, wounded in combat. We hid them and brought them to the doctors with the Red Cross, who operated on them," Scelli told La Stampa daily in an interview published Thursday.
August 28th, 2005  
Isn't there a problem of complicity by these women if they could have left anytime they wanted to on their own? Now the enemy has much needed funds to buy more C4 to kill more allied soldiers.