Spanish journalists freed after six-month Syrian kidnap ordeal

Hostages can be traded for other prisoners or cash. Criminals also target the press to exchange their captives for money

Beirut

Two Spanish journalists who were kidnapped by an extremist group in Syria more than six months ago have been freed.

El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo García Vilanova were taken on 16 September in Tal Abyad, in the north-east of Syria. The men were held in the nearby town of Raqqa by Islamist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – a group formerly affiliated with al-Qa’ida.

After 194 days of captivity, the men were reunited with their families in Madrid on Sunday afternoon. Following months of silence, Monica García Prieto, Mr Espinosa’s wife, described her joy on Twitter. “Pure happiness,” she tweeted.

Mr Espinosa announced their release on Saturday evening through a phone call to his employers in Madrid. “We’re fine, both of us. Ricardo and I. Inform Monica and our parents,” he said. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, the two journalists thanked everybody for their work and support. “Thanks to all those who have worked and made it possible for us to return home,” said Mr Espinosa.

Ricardo García Vilanova, far left, and Javier Espinosa are reunited with their families in Madrid Ricardo García Vilanova, far left, and Javier Espinosa are reunited with their families in Madrid

No further details about their release have been given and it is unclear whether they escaped or were released.

The two men are just two of the 60-plus journalists detained, held hostage or missing in Syria. The country was named the deadliest in the world for journalists to operate by the Committee to Protect Journalists. More than 110 journalists have been killed since March 2011. 

The growth of extremist groups such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra has gone hand in hand with kidnapping of foreign journalists and aid workers, who they claim to be spies. Such hostages can be traded for other prisoners or cash. Criminal gangs also target the press in an attempt to exchange their captives for money. Hefty ransoms of up to $2m (£1.2m) have been paid for abducted journalists over the past few months.

Citizens from more than 10 countries, including Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, France and the US have been taken. Not all have received media attention. Most cases initially start under a media blackout to allow for negotiations.

Such a blackout was also in place following the abduction of Mr Espinosa and Mr García Vilanova, but after two months the family decided to go public. In December Mr Espinosa’s wife broadcast a heartfelt appeal to her husband’s kidnappers to release the two men.

A website that carries al-Qa’ida statements, the Hanein network, also issued a plea to the Islamic State in December. In a statement, it said the men were known to the group and described them as “men who risked their lives to report the truth”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project