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Italian nuns abducted near Somali border freed

ROME, Feb 19 – Two Italian nuns in their 60s kidnapped in Kenya near the Somali border more than three months ago have been freed and were in good condition, Italian officials said Thursday.

The two nuns were abducted by armed men on November 10 in the northern Kenya district of Mandera. The hostages, who had lived in Kenya for years, were believed to have been taken across the border into Somalia.

The neighbouring region of southern Somalia has been controlled by Islamist fighters allied to local militia.

Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed their release to AFP, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed his "satisfaction following the freeing of the two sisters."

"I followed this matter closely," he said, according to ANSA news agency. "The two sisters are doing well and are in our embassy in Nairobi."

Italy’s ambassador to Nairobi, Pierandrea Magistrati, told ANSA "they are doing well – they are currently in my sitting room."

The Vatican had expressed concern about the nuns – Caterina Giraudo, 67, and Maria Teresa Oliviero, 61 – following their kidnapping, and on Thursday expressed "joy" after their release.

"It is a great joy," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, cited by ANSA. "We prayed for them for months."

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In November, a Somali national was charged in a Nairobi court with kidnapping the two nuns. Abdikadir Mohammed Omar faced charges of kidnapping and robbery with violence.

Armed Somali gangs have carried out scores of kidnappings in recent months, often targeting either foreigners or Somalis working with international organisations to demand ransoms.

Two Italian aid workers kidnapped in Somalia in May 2008 were later freed.

The spate of kidnappings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in Somalia, a country long plagued by conflict and humanitarian emergencies.


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