Kidnapping of John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans was a new and unexpected hazard for those trying to report the Syrian conflict


The civil war in Syria has claimed the lives of a number of journalists, most notably those of Marie Colvin and Remy Ochlik during shelling by the army in Homs, highlighting the dangers of covering the most brutal episode of the Arab Spring.

But the kidnapping of John Cantlie and Jeroen Oerlemans, two young freelance photographers, by a rebel group was a new and unexpected hazard for those trying to report the conflict outside the regime’s censorious control.

The Independent was in Syria at the time and I recall the anxiety my colleagues and I felt for John and Jeroen and also a sense of unease about what this meant for the rest of us. The abductions had taken place at a point just across the Turkish border frequently used by the media on their way into Idlib and Aleppo. We knew the young fixer who had taken the pair along the route and there were questions about his judgment and, also, loyalty.

The kidnappers were said to be a large jihadist group including British Pakistanis, something most of us had not encountered before. These fighters expressed visceral hatred of the West and appeared to regard the media as potential spies.

The development also worried many in the Syrian resistance. I remember the commander of one khatiba (battalion) in Aleppo telling us that they were going to find the extremsit group and disarm and expel them. At the end John and Jeroen were rescued by Syrian rebels, but what happened to that foreign jihadist group remains a mystery.