Syria abductors release Italian and Belgian

Italian journalist Domenico Quirico, left, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino (second left) and Pierre Piccinin (right) at a military airport at Ciampino, Italy (9 Sept 2013) Mr Quirico (L) and Mr Piccinin were met off their flight by Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino (second left)

Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin da Prata, who were kidnapped in Syria in April, have been freed, say officials.

The men were flown to Rome, where they were met by Italy's foreign minister.

Mr Quirico, 62, a reporter for the Turin-based daily La Stampa, entered Syria from Lebanon on 6 April saying he would be out of touch for a week.

The men were reportedly together when they were taken - it is not clear who was responsible for kidnapping.

Mr Quirico had spoken by phone to his wife in June confirming he had been kidnapped but said he was in good health.

'Filled with joy'

In a message on Twitter, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said he shared the emotion and relief of the men's families.

Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta welcomed the news. "Our hope was never extinguished," he said.

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino met the men as they arrived at the Francesco Baracca military airport in Ciampino, south-west of Rome.

She said earlier she was "filled with joy and satisfaction" at their release.

"My thoughts are with Mr Quirico's relatives who will be able to greet him again after many months," said Ms Bonino.

"My thanks go to those who played a part in the successful outcome... the Foreign Ministry and other state agencies who together pursued every channel to solve this case. It was particularly difficult in such a complicated environment as Syria.

"This is great news for all media workers who risk their lives in war to tell the truth in extreme situations."

Mr Quirico was also among four journalists who were held captive briefly in Libya in 2011.

The conflict in Syria has made it one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria was the most deadly country for reporters in 2012.

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