| 16.1°C Belfast

Italian politician apologises for ‘neo-terrorist’ jibe at released hostage

Silvia Romano said she converted to Islam freely during her captivity with the al-Shabab group.

Close

Silvia Romano waves from a window of her home, in Milan, Italy (Luca Bruno/AP)

Silvia Romano waves from a window of her home, in Milan, Italy (Luca Bruno/AP)

Silvia Romano waves from a window of her home, in Milan, Italy (Luca Bruno/AP)

A right-wing politician has apologised for calling a young Italian woman who converted to Islam while held hostage in Somalia a “neo-terrorist”.

Alessandro Pagano of the anti-migrant League party said in a Facebook post that he had intended to criticise the government, not Silvia Romano, with his remarks in the lower house of parliament.

Mr Pagano drew outrage and a reprimand from fellow politicians and the Vatican on Wednesday after he referred to Ms Romano while complaining about the government’s refusal to reopen churches during the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Pagano alleged there is a “strong anti-religious bent” in Italy’s coalition government, “and yet when a neo-terrorist comes back …”

Close

Silvia Romano, escorted by Carabinieri officers, arrives at her home wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women and a surgical mask (Luca Bruno/AP)

Silvia Romano, escorted by Carabinieri officers, arrives at her home wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women and a surgical mask (Luca Bruno/AP)

AP/PA Images

Silvia Romano, escorted by Carabinieri officers, arrives at her home wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women and a surgical mask (Luca Bruno/AP)

It was a reference to the decision by the Italian premier and foreign minister to greet Ms Romano at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Sunday, and apparent willingness to pay ransom to her captors.

Ms Romano, 24, was freed after 18 months as a hostage of Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic extremists.

She returned to Italy wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women, and told prosecutors she had freely converted during her ordeal.

Her return, however, has unleashed waves of anti-Islam hate speech on social media, criticising her conversion, her decision to work as a volunteer in Kenya and the ransom paid for her freedom.

Mr Pagano said his remarks were directed at the government, saying the ransom payment and high-profile welcome for Ms Romano was a propaganda victory for al-Shabab.

He expressed “maximum solidarity” with Ms Romano.

Close

Silvia Romano walks on the tarmac after landing at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Sunday (Paolo Santalucia/AP)

Silvia Romano walks on the tarmac after landing at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Sunday (Paolo Santalucia/AP)

AP/PA Images

Silvia Romano walks on the tarmac after landing at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Sunday (Paolo Santalucia/AP)

“If I offended some sensitivities, I apologise,” he said.

League leader Matteo Salvini tried to downplay Mr Pagano’s comments: saying “Let’s leave Silvia alone, as we wish her a long and happy life.”

Mr Salvini, who is known for his anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric, wrote on Facebook: “Let’s look instead at the true enemy, the true danger to our children, Italy, the world and freedom: Fanatical, integralist, violent and assassin Islam.”

Ms Romano, for her part, has reportedly urged Italians to stop “getting angry to defend me”.

“The worst for me is over, let’s enjoy this moment together,” she wrote to friends on a closed Facebook account, according to the Ansa news agency.

She said she was happy to be able to embrace her family and friends and thanked “all those friends, known and unknown, who dedicated a thought to me”.

PA