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Italians: We feared being killed

Simona Pari, left, and Simona Torretta at Thursday's news conference.
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Two Italians held hostage by Iraqi insurgents feared for their lives until they stepped onto a plane that took them from Baghdad to Rome, the two women said in their first meeting with the press since their release.

Aide workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were taken hostage from their offices September 7 along with two Iraqi colleagues.

All four were released Tuesday. "The moment of release took place suddenly," Torretta said on Thursday.

"We only realized when we met Marisa from the Red Cross and realized that was actually the moment we would be released and set free. But until we set foot on the plane, we were not completely convinced that that was actually the moment."

Their captors required them to read the Koran and taught them the tenets of Islam, she said, but the women were treated "with dignity and respect" in "a difficult and dangerous situation."

"Of course we were afraid of being killed," she said.

"We understood that the solution was not forthcoming. Up until the moment when we stepped on that plane, we always feared we might be killed."

Pari spoke very little during the news conference, occasionally nodding at her colleague's words.

She did offer thanks "to the Arab world, Muslim, Christian communities in Italy and the world" along with the entire Italian population, including "our political forces and the government."

"We have always tried to unite two very different worlds, and we hope that this dialogue will carry on," she said.

Torretta said the first few days of their kidnapping were the most tense, but relations between them and their kidnappers slowly improved.

"They actually acknowledged our work, and after our release they actually apologized for what they had done to us," she said.

Fabio Albretti, the president of the organization the women worked for -- Bridge to Baghdad -- said the group will continue its work but had not yet decided whether to send staff back into Iraq.

"We'd like to close this phase and go back to our routine work, go back to help the Iraqi people who are in a way still held hostage in the war," he said.

None of the news conference participants had anything further to say about the circumstances of the release.

Italian authorities disputed reports that a ransom was paid for their release, and Italian intelligence officials said there had been intensive negotiations through mediators. Those sources also indicated that "some money" may have changed hands.

Gustavo Selvo, the head of an Italian parliamentary foreign affairs commission, told reporters he believed a ransom of about $1 million was paid -- despite government denials. (Full story)

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