• Sunday, October 26, 2014

French hostages home after 10 months captivity in Syria

BBC Online
Nicolas Henin (L), former French hostage and journalist, is greeted by his family moments after the arrival of the ex-hostages by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris, April 20, 2014. Photo Reuters
Nicolas Henin (L), former French hostage and journalist, is greeted by his family moments after the arrival of the ex-hostages by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris, April 20, 2014. Photo Reuters

Four French journalists have arrived back in France after their release from 10 months of captivity in Syria.

Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres were greeted by their families as well as President Hollande as they landed at a military base outside Paris.

They had been found by Turkish soldiers on the Syrian border late on Friday.

The jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has been accused of kidnapping them.

Welcoming them at Villacoublay air base, south of Paris, President Hollande called it a "day of great joy" both for the four journalists and for France.

Former French hostages and journalists Didier Francois (L) and Edouard Elias (R), who waves, look toward awaiting media from inside their helicopter at their arrival to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris. Photo: Reuters
Former French hostages and journalists Didier Francois (L) and Edouard Elias (R), who waves, look toward awaiting media from inside their helicopter at their arrival to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris. Photo: Reuters

"France is proud that these compatriots serve the freedom of the press and France is proud to have been able to secure their liberty," he said.

Hollande also denied that France had paid a ransom for the hostages.

"It was a long haul, but we never lost hope," Didier Francois, 53, told journalists. "From time to time, we got snatches of information, we knew that the world was mobilised."

'DISCREET WORK'

The journalists were found blindfolded and handcuffed in a no-man's land in Turkey's border province of Sanliurfa and were taken by Turkish soldiers to a police station in the nearby town of Akcakale.

Television footage showed the men looking unkempt, with beards and long hair, but in good health.

Speaking briefly to the media on Saturday, Francois said he was "very happy to be free... to see the sky, to be able to walk and to be able to speak freely".

The men went missing in two separate incidents last June.

Francois, a veteran war correspondent working for Europe 1 radio, and Elias, a photographer, were abducted in early June on their way to Aleppo.

Henin, who was working for Le Point magazine, and Torres, reporting for French-German television channel Arte, were taken later that month near Raqqa.

Negotiations with their kidnappers had been going on for several weeks but it is not known if anything was offered to them in return for freeing the men, the BBC's Hugh Schofield reports from Paris.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier said their release "was the result of long, difficult, precise and necessarily discreet work".

Syria has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

More than 60 have been killed in the country since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad three years ago.

Published: 3:41 pm Sunday, April 20, 2014

Last modified: 10:13 pm Sunday, April 20, 2014

TAGS: Syria French journalists captivity

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