The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Italian reporter and Belgian writer kidnapped in Syria released

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ROME - An Italian war reporter and a Belgian writer who were kidnapped in Syria in April were freed on Sunday, the Italian government said.

A few hours after the announcement, Domenico Quirico, a correspondent for the Turin daily La Stampa, stepped off a plane at a Rome airport and was embraced by Italy's foreign minister. The Belgian man, Pierre Piccinin, was also free and was flown to Italy along with Quirico, Prime Minister Enrico Letta's office said in a statement.

Letta's office said "hope had never faded" for Quirico's safe return but gave no details on how he became free, nor said who had held him.

Quirico, looking weary, told reporters on the tarmac of Rome's Ciampino airport early Monday that he felt as if he had "been living on Mars" for the past five months, and that his isolation from the news was such that he didn't even know who had been elected Italian president this spring.

"I was treated badly," Quirico said, when a reporter asked how his abductors had treated him. La Stampa described him as exhausted but in good health.

A veteran war correspondent used to reporting from the front lines, Quirico had entered Syria from Lebanon on April 6 and disappeared three days later while travelling to the city of Homs in war-torn Syria. La Stampa said Piccinin had been kidnapped along with Quirico.

"I had tried to tell the story of the Syrian revolution but ... the revolution turned into something else," Quirico said.

Sky TG24 TV said Italian prosecutors in Rome would talk to Quirico on Monday about his kidnapping before he heads to his home in northern Italy.

Letta called Belgium's prime minister with the good news about Piccinin, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

Still missing in Syria is an Italian Jesuit priest, Paolo Dall'Oglio, a well-known figure who Syria who activists said had gone to meet with al-Qaida-linked militants. The priest went missing in July.

Dall'Oglio is a critic of the regime of President Bashar Assad, which the rebels are fighting to overthrow. The government a year ago expelled him from Syria, where he had lived for 30 years.

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