Freed Italian hostage says conversion to Islam during Al-Shabab captivity was not forced

Freed Italian hostage says conversion to Islam during Al-Shabab captivity was not forced
An Italian aid worker has said she converted to Islam while being held hostage by Al-Shabab-linked militants.
2 min read
11 May, 2020
Romano was held hostage for 18 months [Getty]
An Italian aid worker who was held hostage by militants linked to the East African Al-Shabab extremist group for 18 months has revealed she converted to Islam while in captivity.

Silvia Constanza Romano, 25, was rescued on Friday as part of a joint Turkish-Somali-Italian operation, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported.

Romano said she converted mid-way through her time in captivity, and has insisted that her conversion was not forced.

"It was spontaneous and not forced," she told Italian news agency ANSA. "I was given a Quran and thanks to my captors I also learned some Arabic.

"They explained their reasons and culture to me... There was no marriage or relationship, only respect," she added.

Romano working as a volunteer with an Italian humanitarian group when she was abducted in November 2018 during an attack by gunmen in Kenya. 

Romano was taken to the Italian Embassy in Mogadishu after she was freed, and flown back to Italy on Sunday. Rome-based prosecutors investigate crimes committed abroad against Italian citizens, and they are expected to question her about the kidnapping.

Her original abductors eventually passed her into the hands of militants linked to Al-Shabab, Italian media reported. 

The Al-Qaeda linked group, which opposes Somalia's federal government and seeks to impose sharia law, is considered by many to be the deadliest extremist group in Africa.

It has carried out attacks in East Africa beyond its base in Somalia, including in neighbouring Kenya, despite having been ousted from its bases in Mogadishu in 2011.

Romano is not the first hostage of a militant groups to have embraced the faith while in captivity.

American aid worker Peter Kassig converted to Islam and changed his named to Abdul-Rahman Kassig while held hostage by the Islamic State group in Syria.

Amid speculation his conversion was forced, Kassig's parents have repeatedly insisted his journey to the faith had begun long before he was kidnapped. He was later killed by IS militants.

Fellow IS captive James Foley also converted to Islam before his brutal on-camera death, according to some cellmates who were later freed, although it is unclear whether that conversion was genuine.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley also linked her conversion to Islam to her 11 days in captivity with Taliban militants. Ridley said she had been treated with respect by her captors and had made promises to study the Quran if set free, which later resulted in her conversion.

Agencies contributed to this report

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