Italian Man Held Hostage in Syria Since 2016 Freed: Prime Minister

April 7, 2019 Updated: April 7, 2019

ROME—An Italian man held hostage in Syria since April 2016 has been freed and is returning home, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Friday.

Sergio Zanotti, a businessman from Brescia, was seized in southern Turkey near the Syrian border three years ago, his family said.

Very little news was ever released about his abduction, with the government in Rome eager to maintain radio silence as they sought to gain his release.

“At the end of a complex and delicate intelligence, investigative and diplomatic operation … we have today managed to obtain the release of Sergio Zanotti,” Conte’s office said in a statement.

“Our compatriot appears in a good general condition and in a few hours he will return to Italy, to Rome,” it added, giving no details of who had held him or how he was freed.

His abductors posted at least two videos of Zanotti during his captivity.

In one he was shown kneeling between two masked gunmen and looking straight at the camera. Wearing a blue t-shirt and sporting a long, gray beard, he appealed to the government in Rome to intervene and prevent his execution.

3 Hostages Escape Muslim Terrorists in Philippines

Three hostages held by Muslim terrorists in the southern Philippines have made a daring escape that left one drowned, another shot in the back in critical condition and another safe after swimming to his freedom, officials said.

The two Indonesians and one Malaysian separately escaped while Philippine marines were attempting to rescue them on Simusa island in southern Sulu province over the last two days, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said on April 6.

The dramatic escapes leave at least three more hostages in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization due to its brutal history of bombings, ransom kidnappings, extortion and beheadings. The remaining captives include a Dutch bird watcher, Elwold Horn, who was kidnapped by the terrorists in 2012, and two Filipinos.

One of the Indonesians, Heri Ardiansyah, was plucked from the waters by marines on board a gunboat while they recovered the body of his companion, Hariadin, who drowned. The marines gunned down three Abu Sayyaf captors who were trying to chase the two Indonesians at sea, military officials said. Like many Indonesians, Hariadin used just one name.

Indonesian hostage Heri Ardiansyah
Indonesian hostage Heri Ardiansyah sits on a cot inside a Philippine Navy patrol boat following his rescue by Philippine troops in Simisa island, Sulu province in southern Philippines, on April 5, 2019. (WestMinCom Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

The marines seized four assault rifles, a grenade launcher and various ammunition from the captors of the Indonesians, military officials said.

The Malaysian, who was identified by the military as Jari Bin Abudullah, was shot by the terrorists when he ran away Thursday as marines tried to rescue him and engaged his captors in a gunbattle. Government forces surrounded Simusa island, where a small community thrives near mangroves, to hunt down the remaining Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

“The act of shooting the kidnap victim is indicative of the Abu Sayyaf’s hopelessness and desperateness as the militants are now surrounded by our pursuing troops,” said Sulu’s military commander, Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo Jr.

The Malaysian was airlifted to Zamboanga city, where he was in critical condition in a hospital, military officials said.

The three hostages were kidnapped off Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island in December last year and taken by speedboat to Sulu, the predominantly Muslim and poverty-wracked province where a few hundred Abu Sayyaf have survived in the jungles despite frequent military offensives.

Army troops on Friday clashed with about 80 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Sulu’s mountainous Patikul town in a fierce but brief gunbattle that left three soldiers and four terrorists dead and several wounded on both sides, the military said.

island where an Indonesian hostage was held
The island where an Indonesian hostage held by Muslim terrorists was rescued by Philippine troops in Sulu province in southern Philippines, on April 5, 2019. (WestMinCom Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

The ISIS terrorist group issued a statement confirming it killed three and wounded 13 Philippine soldiers, but it said “the mujahideen returned safely to base.”

The rebels belong to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by commander Hajan Sawadjaan and aligned with ISIS. Sawadjaan is the main suspect in the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral during a Mass that killed 23 mostly churchgoers and two suspected suicide attackers on Jan. 27 in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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