• Italy edition
Italian faced 'mock executions' in Syria
Domenico Quirico went missing shortly after entering Syria in April. Photo: La Stampa/AFP

Italian faced 'mock executions' in Syria

Published: 09 Sep 2013 14:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 Sep 2013 14:33 GMT+02:00

Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian national Pierre Piccinin, set free on Sunday five months after being kidnapped in Syria, faced mock executions and twice tried to escape their captors.

Piccinin said on Monday they faced "real violence" and mock executions after being captured by rebel forces in April.

Quirico, 62, is a well-known war correspondent in Italy who worked from African hot spots including Libya, Sudan, Darfur and Mali. He entered Syria from Lebanon without an official visa and went missing in early April between Damascus and the flashpoint central city of Homs.

Scant detail has emerged of their release on Sunday but Quirico's newspaper said Italy's secret services had stepped up efforts to secure their release ahead of feared US military strikes.

"Physically, we are okay despite the torture we suffered," Piccinin told Bel RTL radio station shortly after returning to Belgium.

"There was sometimes real violence ...humiliation, bullying, mock executions ... Domenico faced two mock executions, with a revolver," he said.

Piccinin, a history teacher in a southern Belgian town, and Quericio, a correspondent for Italy's La Stampa daily, entered Syria via Lebanon in April.

Shortly afterwards, the Western-backed Free Syrian Army picked them up and handed them over to the Abu Ammar brigade, a rebel group "more bandit than Islamist," Piccinin told Le Soir daily.

The five months they were held proved to be "a terrifying odyssey across Syria," he told Bel RTL.

"We were moved around a lot...it was not always the same group that held us, there were very violent groups, very anti-West and some anti-Christian."

Piccinin said they tried to escape twice, once while their captors were at prayer, but they were tracked down after two days and "seriously punished."

Piccinin, an Arabic speaker who has travelled to Syria seven times since the conflict broke out in 2011, said the rebel cause had changed, descending into banditry.

"I think it has become very dangerous for Westerners to go to Syria in current conditions, with the revolution (against President Bashar al-Assad) disintegrating," he said.

After the two men were freed Sunday, they were flown to Rome on an Italian government plane.

Quirico, who was on his fourth trip to Syria when he was kidnapped, spoke to prosecutors in Rome on Monday about his ordeal after meeting with Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Quirico looked gaunt and tired in images shown on Italian television.

"I have lived for five months as if I was on Mars. I was badly treated and scared," he told journalists.

La Stampa said the kidnappers were part of the "galaxy of rebel groups - a jumble of slogans, movements and war profiteers that is hard to work out."

The concern had been that as the possibility of US-led air strikes on Syria increases, "the frontline could move rapidly and contact could be lost with kidnappers," it said.

During his captivity, Quirico was able to briefly call his wife on June 6th, apparently from the former rebel bastion of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, southwest of Homs.

The foreign ministry later called on the media not to published unconfirmed information about the kidnapping and to let caution prevail when reporting about the case.

Italy is also trying to free another one of its nationals missing in Syria since July, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for many years to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Following Quirico's release there are 13 journalists still missing in Syria, according to media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

Among the kidnapped are two French journalists, Didier Francois and Edouard Elias, who were picked up in June on the road to Aleppo. According to the head of their support committee, Serge July, they are being held by a group that claims to be part of the resistance.

US journalist James Foley, 39, who worked for Global Post, Agence France-Presse and other international media, was kidnapped in northwest Syria and has been missing since November 22nd 2012.

Foley's family have said they believe he is being held by Syrian security services in a detention centre near Damascus. In an interview in May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he had "no information" on this.

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Pope makes Easter plea for Ukraine peace
Pope Francis leads the Easter mass on April 20, 2014 at St Peter's square in Vatican. AFP Photo: Andreas Solaro

Pope makes Easter plea for Ukraine peace

Pope Francis urged the international community to "prevent violence" in Ukraine in his Easter Sunday message after pro-Russian insurgents in the east of the country reported four people killed in a gunbattle. READ () »

Bury him: Jailed mobster's hit order
Shovel photo: Shutterstock.

Bury him: Jailed mobster's hit order

Italian police said on Saturday they had prevented a mafia war in Palermo with eight arrests including members of the city's most powerful clan, and published transcripts of an execution order from an imprisoned mobster. READ () »

Armani settles tax row with €270m payoff
Giorgio Armani pictured in Milan in January 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Armani settles tax row with €270m payoff

Giorgio Armani settled a tax dispute in Italy by paying €270 million ($373 million) this week, Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported on Friday. READ () »

Kazakh tycoon's family granted refugee status
Mukhtar Ablyazov pictured with his daughter Alua in 2010. AFP Photo/Family hand out

Kazakh tycoon's family granted refugee status

Italy has granted political refugee status to the family of a Kazakh tycoon, who is in prison in France fighting an extradition order from Russia and Ukraine where he is wanted for massive fraud, lawyers said. READ () »

Renzi trims car perks in round of tax cuts
Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gives a speech during a campaign meeting of the Democratic Party. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Renzi trims car perks in round of tax cuts

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Friday hailed a "structural revolution" after his cabinet approved a round of tax and spending cuts including a limit of five chauffeured cars per government ministry. READ () »

Pope sends condolences for S.Korea ferry victims
Pope Francis presides the Celebration of the Way of the Cross on Good Friday on April 18, 2014 at the Colosseum in Rome. AFP Photo / Alberto Pizzoli

Pope sends condolences for S.Korea ferry victims

Pope Francis on Saturday voiced condolences for the victims of a ferry disaster in South Korea, where 273 people are missing and 29 have been confirmed dead. READ () »

Italian bank backs €5bn capital boost plan
Monte dei Paschi di Siena has given the go-ahead to a €5.0 billion equity raise. Photo: Fabio Muzzi/AFP

Italian bank backs €5bn capital boost plan

Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena gave the go-ahead on Friday to a €5.0 billion equity raising that will boost its capital and allow it to repay a government bailout this year. READ () »

Veneto activists released from jail
The group allegedly converted a digger into a tank, which they planned to use to attack Venice. Photo: ROS Carabinieri

Veneto activists released from jail

A court in Brescia, northern Italy, has ordered the release from jail of seven activists who allegedly plotted to 'liberate' Venice with a homemade 'tank' earlier this month. READ () »

Sollecito takes girlfriend to Kercher murder house
Raffaele Sollecito was convicted alongside Amanda Knox of murdering Meredith Kercher. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Sollecito takes girlfriend to Kercher murder house

Raffaele Sollecito, convicted in January alongside Amanda Knox of killing British student Meredith Kercher, has taken his girlfriend to the Perugia house where the murder took place, according to Italian media reports on Friday. READ () »

Italian of the Week
The dictator's grand-daughter vying for MEP
Alessandra Mussolini will compete in the upcoming European elections. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The dictator's grand-daughter vying for MEP

Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Italy's fascist dictator, will compete in the upcoming European elections. Staunchly defensive of her heritage, The Local takes a look at the personality behind the woman who could be elected MEP for a second time. READ () »

Singing nun strikes again with 80s classic
Italy embryo mix-up: real parents identified
Italian priest hits boy on scooter and flees
Outcry as Italy auctions off 'haunted island'
Rome street artist paints New York
10 words you didn't know came from Italy
'The mafia has infiltrated every sector in Germany'
'I want everyone to care about Italian history'
Italian Of The Week
The island carpenter with the Pope's blessing
Top 10: dream jobs in Italy for expats
Becoming a saint in five not-so-easy steps
Italian woman dies after taking abortion drug
Italy's looted treasures found in Rome 'museum'
Why Italy might not exist in five years
Italian Of The Week
The world's fastest man on skis
Sheikh seeks woman in Italy for shopping blitz
British royals give Pope whisky and eggs
Top 10: Quirky Italian royalty facts
How to park like an Italian
Unique stucco homes up for grabs down south
Italy sells officials' luxury cars on eBay
VIDEO: American football team goes gay for a day
'We're very worried by rise of Nazis in Europe'
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

jobs available