Italian nuns abducted near Somalia border are freed

Nairobi, Kenya - Two Italian nuns kidnapped in Kenya near the country's border with Somalia more than three months ago have been freed, Italian officials said Thursday. Caterina Giraudo, 67, and Maria Teresa Olivero, 61, are in a "good condition" at the residence of Italy's ambassador in Nairobi, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

The two nuns were abducted by armed men on November 9, 2008 near Elwak in the northern Kenya district of Mandera. The hostages, who had lived in Kenya for years, were believed to have been taken across the border into Somalia.

The neighbouring region of southern Somalia has been controlled by Islamist fighters allied to local militia.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed his "satisfaction following the freeing of the two sisters," he said.

"I followed this matter closely," he said, according to ANSA news agency.

"It is a great joy," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, cited by ANSA. "We prayed for them for months."

In November, a Somali national was charged in a Nairobi court with kidnapping the two nuns. Abdikadir Mohammed Omar faced charges of kidnapping and robbery with violence.

Journalists and foreign aid workers have increasingly become targets for kidnap and murder this year, mainly in south and central Somalia where Islamist insurgents are waging a bloody conflict against the government.

Somalia, effectively a failed state since 1993, is regarded as one of the most dangerous countries on earth for western aid agencies, and hosts little international diplomatic representation.