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Bonino: «È stato fondamentale tenere un basso profilo» (La Stampa)

“There are situations and ‘theatres’, like the theatre of war, where it’s vital to maintain our reserve and keep our emotions in check. I’d like to thank the people who showed resilience, patience and faith: Domenico Quirico’s family and you from “La Stampa”, who were quintessentially ‘Piedmontese’ in your reserve. And my thanks also to the Farnesina, the Crisis Unit and all branches of the Italian state concerned, who didn’t let up for a single minute in their efforts to obtain Quirico’s release”. Emma Bonino is speaking to us on her way to Ciampino airport to meet “La Stampa’s” veteran war reporter, who was kidnapped in April in Syria, while on his 4th mission to report on the civil war.

After precisely 5 months of tension, of contacts that were repeatedly switched on then off, and of daily but not always positive up-dates from the Crisis Unit, the Foreign Minister can, at last, breathe a sigh of relief. “This is such wonderful news for all of us. For his family, for us at the Foreign Ministry, for you at ‘La Stampa’. It’s fantastic news for all journalists who risk their lives on the battlefront, who make such a full and personal commitment to uncover and report the truth”. Minister Bonino’s phone rang at 7pm yesterday. On the line was Claudio Taffuri, head of the Crisis Unit, with the best possible news: Domenico Quirico is free!

Minister Bonino, what were the events leading up to Domenico’s release, and what happened to unblock this 5-month stalemate?

“There’ll be time enough to inform public opinion and reconstruct the events of this kidnapping. Now, as required by procedure, the first step is, understandably, for Italian magistrates to interview Domenico Quirico. So it’s clear that we can’t add anything more at present. One thing that most certainly paid dividends and helped achieve this result is something both simple and very hard to obtain, in a sensitive case like a kidnapping in a complex scenario of devastation like Syria. And that thing is reserve. The fortitude of his family and of this newspaper paid dividends; constancy in keeping a low profile and never taking the bait of the barest hint of controversy. The fortitude and constancy you showed in following our advice on maintaining the utmost reserve. Naturally, the stubborn hard work of everyone at the Farnesina, the Crisis Unit first and foremost, and of all the state departments concerned, paid dividends. To them, I – we – must say ‘Thank you’”.

This is a very particular stage of the Syrian crisis. The United States have announced their intention to carry out targeted attacks – a situation that places hostages on the ground at risk. Can you tell us if this led to a change of gear and greater determination in trying to free Quirico?

The important thing, for all of us, was always to bring Domenico Quirico home as soon as possible. Out determination never waivered. We’ve lived through weeks and months of immense worry. We established contacts, and then communication was broken off for a time. So the anxiety grew, for all of us”.

What was the worst time?

The situation was always very complex; we never tried to hide that. We pursued every possible channel, day by day, every single day, right up to the days of his release. And we did so in a setting – Syria – that could hardly be more complex. As I said several times when I was briefing Parliament on the case, some channels that were initially opened up were then blocked, then opened again, and gradually became more reliable. All possible channels, to explore all possible avenues”.

The Belgian who was captured at the same time as Quirico, Pier Piccinin, was released along with him. Can you up-date us on the situation of Father Dall’Oglio?

“We always felt a glimmer of hope for Quirico, because, as I said earlier, although our contacts were intermittent, they became stronger and stronger over time. In the case of Father Dall’Oglio, we have fewer contacts at present, and, sadly they have remained weak. But the happy outcome for Quirico, and this happy evening when we can share our elation over his release, tell us that what’s needed is hard work and firm determination. And, of course, a little bit of luck”.

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