Two Italian Hostages Freed in Libya


ROME, March 4 (Reuters) - Two Italian civilians held hostage in Libya since last July have been freed, sources close to the matter said on Friday, a day after two other captives were reported to have been killed in the north African state.

The four were employees of the Italian construction company Bonatti and were seized last July near a compound owned by the oil and gas group Eni.

The sources said the two freed men were in good health and were in the hands of the local police.

On Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said their two companions, who were kidnapped with them close to the Tunisian border, had probably died in a firefight near the western Libyan city of Sabratha.

Libyan security forces attacked Islamic State militants in Sabratha on Wednesday. A spokesman for the forces later said the two Italians had been killed by the Islamist militants shortly before the assault.

Italian officials believe the four Bonatti workers were taken by a criminal gang hoping to secure a ransom.

Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Friday that part of a ransom had already been handed over prior to Wednesday's attack. There was no immediate official confirmation of this.

Italian officials, who declined to be named, said Italy had sent some 40 secret service agents to Libya in recent weeks, with an additional 50 special forces operatives set to join them shortly.

Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, has said it is ready to send a much larger contingent there to help train local forces as soon as a U.N.-backed unity government is formed.

(Reporting by Antonella Cinelli; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams)


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