Bigotry mars return of Italy hostage who converted to Islam

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FILE - In this Monday, May 11, 2020 file photo, Silvia Romano waves from a window of her home, in Milan, Italy. A right-wing lawmaker was reprimanded Wednesday for having called a young Italian woman held hostage in Somalia by Muslim extremists a neo-terrorist after she returned home having apparently converted to Islam. Silvia Romano, 24, stepped off an Italian government jet on Sunday wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File )

ROME – A right-wing lawmaker in Italy was reprimanded Wednesday after he called a young Italian woman who converted to Islam while being held hostage in Somalia a “neo-terrorist.”

Silvia Romano, 24, stepped off an Italian government jet Sunday wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women. She reportedly told prosecutors in Rome she converted freely during her 18-month kidnapping ordeal, which included being held captive by Somalia's al-Shabab militants.

What should have been a joyful time for Romano and her family has been marred by displays of bigotry and intolerance in Italy, a majority Catholic country where racist incidents have grown amid anti-migrant sentiment.

Police were called to the Romano family home in Milan after a glass bottle was thrown against the residence.

Negative comments on social media have focused on Romano's decision to convert to Islam, as well as her decision to volunteer in the remote part of Kenya where she was abducted in 2018. The government has also been criticized for having apparently paid a ransom to her captors.

Alessandro Pagano, a lawmaker from the anti-migrant League Party, drew jeers and a reprimand from colleagues in the lower house of parliament after he mentioned Romano while complaining about the government’s refusal to reopen churches during the coronavirus lockdown.

Pagano alleged there is a “strong anti-religious bent” in Italy’s current coalition government, adding “and yet when a neo-terrorist comes back ...” His remark was an apparent reference to the decision by the Italian premier and foreign minister to greet Romano at Rome’s Ciampino airport upon her return.

The acting president of the Chamber of Deputies, Mara Carfagna, quickly admonished Pagano, saying: “Using the term ‘neo-terrorist’ is thoroughly improper, especially in this chamber.”