Italy Denies $1 Million Ransom Paid for Women

One of the two freed Italian aid workers said Wednesday that their abductors in Iraq taught them about Islam and reassured them they wouldn't die.

While the women rested with their families after a joyous reunion, questions were raised whether a $1 million ransom had been paid to secure their freedom.

Simona Torretta (search) spoke briefly to a mob of reporters outside the front door of the apartment building where her family lives on the outskirts of Rome before dawn, a few hours after being questioned by Italian investigators.

Torretta and Simona Pari (search), who was also freed in Baghdad on Tuesday after three weeks in captivity, had flown to Rome late Tuesday night. Two Iraqis abducted with them on Sept. 7 were also freed on Tuesday.

Asked if she feared she would die during her captivity, Torretta first said "Yes." Then she added that their abductors "reassured us. They understood the work we did" for a volunteer group in Iraq.

She described her kidnappers as "religious. They taught us and wanted to teach us about the principles of Islam," Torretta said. "They never touched us. They treated us with great dignity."

Pari, who like Torretta is 29, returned to her family's home in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast. The former hostages work for the aid group "Un Ponte per..." (A Bridge to...), which carries out water projects and helps Iraq children.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (search), who had visited several Middle East capitals as part of efforts to secure the women's release, flatly denied on Italian state radio that ransom had been paid.

But Gustavo Selva (search), the head of an Italian parliamentary foreign affairs commission, has told reporters that he personally believed the ransom was paid even if the government denies it, said Selva's spokesman, Eugenio Marcucci.

Selva is a member of National Alliance, a partner in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government.

La Stampa, a moderate Turin daily, quoted Berlusconi as brushing off the questions over ransom, saying "About this business, we won't say anything. Even more, we won't talk about it any more."

Officials of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-rai al-Aam, which in recent days had said the women's release was imminent, told Italian state radio Wednesday that the ransom had been paid and that the negotiations were conducted in Baghdad.

Berlusconi on Tuesday said that the Italian secret services were involved in as many as 16 different negotiations. He also thanked the intelligence services of some of Iraq's neighbors, including Jordan, whose king was in Rome on Tuesday.

With more than a score of other hostages from various nations still in Iraq, the issue of ransom has practical and ethical ramifications, and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos alluded to it in comments Thursday.

"Blackmail of the terrorists must never triumph," said Moratinos, who told reporters he had called Frattini to congratulate him about the release of the two Italian aid workers. "I believe that no one should negotiate with the terrorists in any way."

On a local government building in Rome, the words "Freedom, welcome back" were added to a banner with photos of the two women.

When they stepped off a jet Tuesday night at a military airport near Rome, the women wore sandals and long embroidered tunics, having shed the long black veils they were wearing when they were handed over to Italian Red Cross officials.

The women had been handed over to the Italian Red Cross in Baghdad.

Three Italian security guards kidnapped in Iraq were freed in a bloodless raid in April after a fourth Italian security guard had been executed by the abductors. An Italian freelance journalist was kidnapped and killed in mid-August.