An Italian aid worker freed after three weeks as a hostage in Afghanistan left for home yesterday, even as security forces continued to hunt for her kidnappers.
A white Italian jet that had landed earlier at Kabul airport left with the former hostage, Clementina Cantoni, 32, her father and brother, Jalili, a Ministry of Interior official, who uses only one name, said.
"She flew home. She was very happy. Before leaving, she said she would come back to Afghanistan and that she had fond memories from here," said Jalili, who escorted Cantoni to the airport.
The Italian was released on Thursday, 24 days after she was kidnapped at gunpoint in the heart of the Afghan capital. She was working for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families. She spent Thursday night at the Italian Embassy, before leaving for the airport and boarding the plane to Italy.
Cantoni said in an interview that her abductors "treated me well" and that while in captivity she was "watched by a group of women," without elaborating.
After being taken to the Italian Embassy on Thursday, she immediately asked for a bowl of spaghetti, according to La Repubblica.
Back home, Italy reacted with joy and relief at the news of Cantoni's release. The woman's parents in Milan broke out in tears and hugged each other.
"Clementina [is] free, the end of a nightmare," was the banner headline of Turin daily La Stampa.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was "extremely pleased" to hear the news, a statement from his office said. Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said the kidnappers were part of a criminal gang and that "the police are hunting them. He urged the 3,000 aid workers, diplomats and other foreigners living in Kabul to "be vigilant about their safety" amid fears of more kidnappings. Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said at a news conference on Thursday that Cantoni "is in good health given the 24-day ordeal she went through." He said no ransom was paid or other concessions made to obtain her freedom.
The kidnapping was the latest in a spate of violence that has shaken Afghanistan and raised fears that militants here were copying the tactics of those in Iraq.
Jalali said combined pressure from the Afghan public, President Hamid Karzai, tribal leaders and Muslim clerics persuaded the kidnapper, whom he described as a criminal, to release her.
Late last month, a video of Cantoni was released by the kidnappers and broadcast on local television. On it, she was shown sitting, with two men standing next to her pointing assault rifles at her head.
Authorities have said they suspect the kidnapping was the work of the same criminal gang accused of abducting three UN workers last year, released a month later.