Middle East

2 Italians, Canadian freed after weeks of captivity in Libya

The two Italian hostages that were freed in Libya, Bruno Cacace, second from left, and Danilo Calonego, second from right, leave a police station after being questioned by prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco, in Rome, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. The two had been kidnapped at Gath, Libya, on Sept. 19.  (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP)

The two Italian hostages that were freed in Libya, Bruno Cacace, second from left, and Danilo Calonego, second from right, leave a police station after being questioned by prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco, in Rome, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. The two had been kidnapped at Gath, Libya, on Sept. 19. (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Two Italians and a Canadian citizen kidnapped in southern Libya in September were freed unharmed and brought to Italy early Saturday, authorities said.

Italian authorities said the intelligence services of Libya, Italy and Canada cooperated in securing the release of the three men after nearly seven weeks of captivity. The men, technicians working on an airport construction project, were seized Sept. 19 by armed, masked men who blocked their vehicle in Ghat, a Sahara Desert city in southwestern Libya near the border with Algeria.

A number of criminal and extremist groups operate in the area, but it wasn't immediately clear which group was involved.

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"Today is a moment of relief and joy that I would like to share with the families of our technicians," Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said, expressing special thanks to Libyan authorities and security forces.

Italy identified the Italians as Danilo Calonego and Bruno Cacace and the Canadian citizen as Frank Poccia. Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the two Italians had not been mistreated during their captivity and were in good health.

Chantal Gagnon, the spokeswoman for Canada's Global Affairs department, would not comment on Poccia's health, saying his family has requested privacy. She said the Canadian government does not pay ransom requests and officials would not comment on whether or not a ransom was discussed.

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The ANSA news agency said the Italians were employed by an Italian construction company. It was not immediately clear whether Poccia worked for the same company.

Italian prosecutors questioned the men for hours Saturday, seeking more information about possible terrorist involvement in the case. The two Italians were seen getting into cars after the questioning. Both had grown beards, in contrast to the clean-shaven looks they sported before their captivity.

Their relatives, waiting to be reunited, told Italian media of their huge relief at the news.

"I lived through hellish days but now it's all over," said Maria Margherita Forneris, Cacace's mother, according to ANSA.

Libya was once an Italian colony and Italy continues to have a strong commercial presence in the North African nation. Libya has fallen into chaos since former dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011 and killed by Libyan rebels.