|Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni smiles as she looks at Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi upon her arrival at Ciampino military airport, in Rome|
To the joy and relief of Italians, an aid worker held hostage in Afghanistan for more than three weeks has returned home safe. She appeared to be in relatively good condition after her ordeal.
Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni has returned to Italy. The 32-year-old was flown out of the Afghan capital, Kabul, Friday after having been held hostage for more than three weeks.
Italian television networks interrupted regular programming to broadcast her arrival live on national television. Ms. Cantoni looked to be in good condition, although a little tired and pale but smiled as she walked off the plane.
Her parents, who had traveled to meet her after receiving news of the release, were also on the plane. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni were among the many Italian authorities present at the airport to welcome her back.
Ms. Cantoni only spoke a few words at the airport after her arrival. She thanked everyone for their support and said everything was fine. She said her kidnappers had treated her well but that her thoughts were with others still being held hostage at this time.
The aid worker left the airport and was to meet with Italian magistrates investigating the kidnapping before traveling home to Milan with her family.
Ms. Cantoni had been in Afghanistan since September 2003 working for the aid agency Care International when she was abducted from her car as she was driving home in Kabul on May 16.
At the airport Friday her brother said his sister planned to return to Afghanistan. Ms. Cantoni was in charge of a program working to assist thousands of widows and their children.
During her time in captivity the widows staged repeated demonstrations calling for her release.
The Afghan government originally said that no ransom was paid or concessions made to obtain Cantoni's release. But on Friday it admitted that she was granted freedom thanks to the release of the mother of the head of the kidnappers.
Italian newspapers reported that three other prisoners were also released by the Afghan authorities and that money was also paid.