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Kidnapped Italians, Canadian freed in Libya, flown to Italy

Men say kidnappers were part of criminal group, not militants, 'drank alcohol and did not pray'
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised Libyan security services (AFP/file photo)

Two Italians and a Canadian who were kidnapped in the south of conflict-torn Libya in September have been released and flown to Italy "in good health," the Italian government announced on Saturday.

The Italians, Danilo Calonego, 66, and Bruno Cacace, 56, and Canadian Frank Poccia were freed during the night "due to the effective cooperation with local Libyan authorities," it said in a statement.

The three men were kidnapped on 19 September in Ghat, close to the Algerian border, where they worked for an Italian company that carried out maintenance at the airport. An armed group blocked their vehicle and took them hostage.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised the Libyan security forces and expressed his "sincere gratitude for the solidarity" shown by several mayors in the south of Libya. "Today is a time of relief and joy that I would like to share with the families of our technicians," he said.

Italy's foreign ministry said the three arrived in Italy at around 3am local time (0200 GMT).

Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the men had not been subjected to any particular violence and were in good health. The men are being interviewed by authorities in Rome before they are expected to be reunited with their families.

The men told an investigator that the kidnappers were part of a single criminal group, were not militants and "drank alcohol and did not pray," Italian media reported.

In Rome, where prosecutors had opened an investigation into a suspected terrorist kidnapping, a magistrate debriefed the three men for seven hours, according to the Italian AGI news agency.

They said they had been well-treated and that their captors were most likely common criminals with no religious or terrorist affiliations, the agency reported.

Several Italian companies are present in Libya, a former Italian colony, and their expatriate staff have often fallen prey to kidnappers in recent years.

In July 2015, four Italians working for a construction company were kidnapped near an oil field operated by Italian oil giant ENI in the region of Mellitah, west of Tripoli.

Two of the hostages were killed more than six months into their ordeal, likely in clashes between militants and local militiamen.

The other two were freed in March this year, in a raid on Islamic State group hideouts near the capital.

Numerous criminal and armed groups are active in Libya's vast southern desert, and al-Qaeda-linked militants have long had a presence across the border between Libya and Algeria.

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