Italy paid $4 million to Syrian kidnappers: report

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Domenico Quirico was released by kidnappers on September 8th. Photo: La Stampa/AFP
11:09 CET+01:00
The Italian government paid a $4 million (€2.9 million) ransom to kidnappers in Syria to secure the release of journalist Domenico Quirico last year, a US magazine has said.

Italian authorities used a negotiator from the opposition Syrian National Council to deliver the money, Foreign Policy magazine said.

The $4 million, delivered in bags of $100 bills, was reportedly used to secure the release of the 63-year-old La Stampa journalist and Pierre Piccinin, a Belgian teacher. It is unclear whether Belgian authorities paid part of the ransom.

"I have seen the money with my own eyes. And I was present as it was handed over to the kidnappers,” negotiator Motaz Shaklab told Foreign Policy.

When contacted by The Local, the Italian foreign ministry was unable to immediately respond to the report.

Quirico and Piccinin were released in September, five months after being taken hostage between the Syrian capital Damascus and the city of Homs.

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Shaklab said their freedom followed three months of negotiations, during which he whittled the ransom figure down from $10 million. Kidnappers reportedly confessed that they had taken the Europeans purely because they had run into financial difficulties.

The negotiator said a friend, who was in touch with the Italian authorities, asked him to locate the pair. Shaklab discovered they were been held captive in Qalamoun, close to the border with Lebanon, by a “moderate” group of rebel forces.

Shaklab was in nearly daily contact with the Italians and met with the kidnappers five times, during which he was able to see Quirico and Piccinin but not talk to them, Foreign Policy said.

Once the ransom figure was agreed, Shaklab said he flew to the Lebanese capital Beirut and drove to the border with an Italian.

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A middleman then delivered the $4 million in cash to the kidnappers, who on September 8th released Quirico and Piccinin close to the Turkish border. The Italian journalist was flown to Rome where he was met by Emma Bonino, Italy’s foreign minister.

READ MORE: Italian journalist held in Syria is set free

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