ROME – Suspected regime loyalists kidnapped four Italian journalists and killed their local driver in Libya as the group traveled down a highway to Tripoli on Wednesday, the Italian foreign ministry said.
The ministry said the four were abducted on a stretch of highway between Zawiya, a town 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Tripoli, and the Libyan capital.
Those kidnapped include two reporters from Milan daily Corriere della Sera, one from Turin's La Stampa and one from Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Catholic bishops Conference, the ministry said.
Corriere della Sera said on its website that the journalists were first stopped by a group of civilians, who then "handed them over to military men faithful to Gadhafi who brought them to a private house," and that first contact from the Avvenire journalist came hours later.
Avvenire's foreign news editor, Fabio Carminati, told Sky TG24 TV in a telephone interview from the paper's Milan office that its reporter, Claudio Monici, called the newsroom to say all four journalists were OK and had been taken to a house.
"Monici said 'We're OK. Call our families. Call the foreign ministry. Call our papers," Carminati said, adding that Monici's voice sounded strong.
Monici told his desk '"We were roughed up, they stole our possessions, our money, our phones,"' Carminati said, summing up the call of a few minutes. The editor said that Monici was allowed to use a phone by members of a family of the house they were taken to.
Avvenire said it wasn't clear where the four are being held.
But the Italian news agency ANSA quoted the Italian consul, Guido De Sanctis, in Benghazi, Libya, saying that the four journalists are being held in an apartment between Bab al-Aziziya and Rixos Hotel, from where dozens of foreign journalists were released Wednesday after being held captive for days by pro-government gunmen. De Sanctis is quoted as saying that the four were given food and water.
The foreign ministry said De Sanctis spoke with one of the journalists by telephone.
La Stampa said that, according to De Sanctis, visible from the apartment where the four were being held is a "well-known shopping center that belongs to Gadhafi's daughter." The Turin newspaper added that the four were kidnapped by "armed men" while they were traveling by car from Zawiya to Tripoli," and that the abductions occurred near Zawiya.
The foreign ministry said it appeared that those carrying out the kidnapping were Moammar Gadhafi loyalists. Its "crisis" office was "trying to reconstruct in detail the circumstances of how the kidnapping happened and is exploring all channels useful for the most rapid solution possible of the affair," the ministry said in a statement.
Italy's journalist association identified the other abducted journalists as Elisabetta Rosaspina and Giuseppe Saracina of Corriere della Sera and Domenico Quirico of La Stampa.
Carminati said Monici had arrived in Libya on Tuesday.