Freed Al-Qaeda hostage returns to Italy

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iol nes pic Maria Sandra Mariani AP Maria Sandra Mariani, an Italian tourist who was abducted by al-Qaeda militants in the desert in Algeria last year, talks to reporters following her release, as she waits to board a plane in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Rome - An Italian tourist held captive in the Sahara desert region for 14 months by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb returned to Italy on Wednesday, a day after her release in Burkina Faso.

Looking visibly thinner, 54-year-old Maria Sandra Mariani was greeted by her son and sister at Ciampino airport in Rome. She was then taken to the prosecutor's office and the foreign ministry for debriefings.

She is due back in her home town of San Casciano near Florence later.

Mariani was seized in a remote part of southern Algeria on February 2 last year along with her driver and guide, who were later released and told investigators the kidnappers were “14 men riding in two Toyota trucks.”

In an audio recording aired by Al-Arabiya television on February 18, Mariani's voice was heard saying in halting French that she was “being held by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Tarek ibn Zyad battalion”.

In July last year, AFP in Mali's Bamako viewed a video given to negotiators in which she did not speak but was shown in a veil and pink robes, sitting on the sand with her hands crossed and with three guns in the background.

The foreign ministry rejected some reports in Italian media that a three-million-euro ($4.0-million) ransom had been paid for her release.

Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi announced her release on Tuesday, saying she had been held in “terrible conditions” but was in good health. - Sapa-AFP

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