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Two female Italian hostages were freed on Tuesday
Two female Italian hostages seized in Baghdad three weeks ago were freed on Tuesday along with kidnapped Iraqis and Egyptians in a flurry of releases, but an abducted Briton remained under threat of death. An Arab television report said two French journalists were also close to being freed, but the French government declined to comment. The two freed Italian aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, were safe and well, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said. They and two Iraqi colleagues seized with them had been freed after "difficult" negotiations, he said. News of their release sparked scenes of joy across Italy, and Italian television showed live pictures of the jet carrying the two Simonas, as they are affectionately known in Italy, touch down at Ciampino airport at 11:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. EDT). "We are well," the two said to reporters before they were taken away for questioning by anti-terror magistrates looking into their kidnapping. Within minutes of their release, an Egyptian telephone company said four of six of its engineers snatched last week had also been set free. But the fate of British hostage, engineer Kenneth Bigley, who was seized 12 days ago and has been threatened with beheading, remained unclear. Pari and Torretta, both aged 29, were taken at gunpoint from their central Baghdad offices on Sept. 7 in a brazen kidnapping that jolted the thousands of foreigners working in Iraq. "This is an extraordinary moment of joy," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who thanked Arab and Islamic leaders for helping Rome during the crisis, informs Reuters. According to the NEWS, two Italian aid workers held hostage in Iraq for three weeks were released by their captors yesterday amid reports that a $1m (?552,000) ransom had been paid to buy their freedom. Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29, were handed to the Italian Red Cross in Baghdad after they were kidnapped by gunmen from the offices of their charity in the capital on 7 September. The spokesman for the interior ministry, Dr Sabah Khadim, said last night that the kidnappers' motive was always to extract a ransom. Italian newspapers, quoting reports from Kuwait, claimed that $500,000 was paid via intermediaries on Monday and the rest was to be paid yesterday. The Italian government denied a ransom was paid, while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke of "difficult" negotiations when he confirmed the release in parliament. A French negotiator said last night he had met two French journalists being held in Iraq and that an agreement had been reached to free them soon. Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot, Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and their Syrian driver and interpreter, Mohammed al-Jundi, have been held since 20 August by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.
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