Italian Hostage’s Release Erupts Into Clashes Over Islam and Ransom

Sunday Could 17, 2020
By Elisabetta Povoledo

The conversion to Islam by Silvia Romano, an Italian assist employee kidnapped by a bunch stated to be linked to the Shabab, was met with insults and threats.

Silvia Romano arriving at her residence in Milan on Monday.Credit score…Luca Bruno/Related Press

ROME — When phrase surfaced final weekend {that a} kidnapped 24-year-old Italian assist employee had been launched after 18 months in captivity in Africa, Italians had been overjoyed after weeks of relentlessly gloomy coronavirus-driven information.

However from the second she stepped off an Italian authorities aircraft on Sunday carrying a inexperienced jilbab — the full-length outer garment worn by some Muslim ladies — her welcome residence turned decidedly chillier, and even outright hostile.

The conversion of the younger lady, Silvia Romano, to Islam, together with rumors that Italy had paid a ransom for her launch, opened the dam to a deluge of insults on social media. She has additionally been met with threats, in an episode that has targeted renewed consideration on the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam commentary unleashed in Italy in the course of the 15 months that Matteo Salvini, the chief of the League Get together, served because the nation’s inside minister till he was ousted final fall.

Since Monday, the police have been patrolling the Milan avenue the place Ms. Romano lives, and a Milan prosecutor has opened an investigation into the onslaught of threatening messages directed towards her on social media. Supporters stated it was as if she had been freed by her kidnappers solely to be held hostage — in her residence — by Italian haters.

For her half, Ms. Romano, who has not spoken publicly since her return, reached out on her non-public Fb web page on Thursday. “I ask you to not get mad to defend me. The worst has handed for me,” she wrote in a put up seen solely to buddies. “I all the time adopted my coronary heart and it’ll by no means betray me.”

Ms. Romano, whose launch reportedly occurred final Friday, was kidnapped in November 2018 within the Kenyan metropolis of Chakama, close to the city the place she was volunteering with Africa Milele, an Italian assist group whose title consists of the Swahili phrase for “endlessly.”

Italian newspapers, citing a deposition Ms. Romano gave to prosecutors after her return, stated that she had been kidnapped by a gang affiliated with the Shabab militant group. Prosecutors sometimes query victims within the aftermath of such instances.

From Kenya, Ms. Romano was taken — totally on foot — to Somalia, a roughly four-week journey, throughout which she fell ailing, information reviews stated. In Somalia, she was moved six occasions.

Italian information shops, which stated she had modified her first title to Aisha, reported this week that Ms. Romano had instructed prosecutors that she freely transformed to Islam throughout her abduction. She denied rumors that she had been compelled to marry considered one of her abductors and that she was pregnant, the reviews stated.

“I all the time adopted my coronary heart and it’ll by no means betray me,” stated Ms. Romano, who arrived again in Italy on Sunday.Credit score…Fabio Frustaci/EPA, through Shutterstock

The case has stirred criticism that some Italian nongovernmental organizations are ill-prepared to deal with the threats going through staff in some nations. It has additionally revived arguments about Italy’s purported propensity — which it has constantly denied — to pay ransom for the discharge of kidnapped Italians, a observe that’s frequent elsewhere in Europe.

“So far as I’m involved, beginning tomorrow, Italy ought to by no means once more pay a ransom,” Mr. Salvini stated in a televised interview on Thursday.

The federal government has not confirmed reviews of a ransom in Ms. Romano’s case. Talking on an Italian tv program on Tuesday, Overseas Minister Luigi Di Maio stated that he was “not conscious {that a} ransom had been paid.”

Ms. Romano’s conversion to Islam — and whether or not it was voluntary — held sway within the Italian information media for days. Parallels had been drawn to the tv sequence “Homeland,” during which Sgt. Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine held captive by Al Qaeda, converts to Islam and returns to america as a attainable enemy agent.

“Changing after spending so many months below the strain of mercenaries that use Islam as a canopy to extort cash from a state is a selection that opens a debate,” the Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Muslim, wrote in an opinion piece within the newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.

The dialog additionally reached Parliament.

And whereas some members of Mr. Salvini’s social gathering have been harsh of their condemnation of Ms. Romano, a line appeared to have been crossed on Wednesday when Alessandro Pagano, a League lawmaker, described her as a “neo-terrorist” throughout a debate about Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

He chided the federal government for having greeted her on the airport on her return. Mr. Di Maio and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte — each of whom beforehand served in a coalition authorities with the League — had been at Ciampino Airport close to Rome on Sunday to satisfy Ms. Romano’s aircraft when it landed.

Lawmakers with the governing Democratic Get together responded to Mr. Pagano with jeers, and the vp of the decrease home scolded him for utilizing an “improper time period.”

Mr. Pagano then cited an article printed Tuesday in La Repubblica, during which Ali Dehere, recognized as a Shabab spokesman, stated {that a} ransom fee can be used for faculties, meals and drugs, and to purchase weapons, “which we more and more want for the jihad, our holy struggle.”

Mr. Dehere didn’t specify the quantity of the ransom that he stated had been paid for Ms. Romano’s launch. Unsubstantiated information reviews used figures as excessive as Four million euro, about $4.three million.

Mr. Pagano later stated on Fb that he had been criticizing the federal government and the attainable ransom fee, and never Ms. Romano, who he stated “may nonetheless be shaken by the horrible expertise she had gone by.”

A front-page editorial within the conservative newspaper Il Giornale criticized Mr. Pagano below the headline “Criticism is a Proper, Punishing Hatred a Obligation” — though the newspaper’s personal predominant headline on Monday had learn: “Islamic and Joyful. Silvia the Ungrateful.”

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, urged Italians to be extra compassionate.

Commenting on Ms. Romano’s liberation after 535 days, “when virtually all hope had been misplaced,” it famous that as an alternative of pleasure, her launch had produced “a tribunal of hundreds of judges, nearly all working on social media, issuing sentences,” which it referred to as a “record of horrors.”

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