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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence