World Bulletin / News Desk
Italy said on Friday reports that a 12-million-euro ransom was paid to free two aid workers kidnapped in Syria were "baseless", following public criticism, but did not deny directly that a payment had been made.
News of their return was greeted with applause in parliament but also drew unusually heavy criticism from opposition politicians after Arab media reports suggested a ransom of 12 million euros ($14 million) may have been paid to al Qaeda's Syrian wing, the Nusra Front.
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni dismissed the reports, which he said may have been circulated by the kidnappers.
"It surprises me that this conjecture from these sources was given credibility by some without any confirmation," he told parliament.
He said the government's approach was in line with the long-standing policy of successive Italian governments and Italy had acted in respect of internationally recognised rules.
"We are against paying ransoms," he said, but added: "When it comes to Italians taken hostage, our priority is focused on saving their lives and the physical integrity of our compatriots."
Lucio Malan, a senior member of the centre-right Forza Italia party, said the government should explain whether a ransom had been paid.
If a ransom were paid "to save two valuable lives, then thousands of others -- equally valuable -- would be put at risk," Malan said in a statement.
A ransom payment "would encourage terrorists, illegitimate entities like the so-called caliphate and simple criminals to take Italians hostage, wherever they may be," Malan said.
The leader of the opposition Northern League party Matteo Salvini said on Twitter: "If the government really paid a ransom of 12 million to free the two friends of the Syrians, it would be disgusting!"
European governments including Italy have long tolerated or facilitated ransom payments to secure the release of hostages although the practice has frequently been denied officially.
A report in the New York Times last year said al Qaeda and its affiliates had made at least $125 million from kidnap ransoms since 2008, most from European governments making payments through proxies.Last Mod: 16 Ocak 2015, 22:53