Syria conflict: Four French journalists freed after spending almost a year as hostages

The four men were found blindfolded and handcuffed after going missing in June 2013

Four French journalists have been released after being held hostage in Syria for 10 months, officials said Saturday.

Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres are the latest group of reporters to be freed in what has become the world’s deadliest conflict for the media.

President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement that the French leader felt “immense relief” over the news and that the four were all said to be in good health despite the “very trying conditions” of their captivity.

“We are very happy to be free ... and it's very nice to see the sky, to be able to walk, to be able to ... speak freely,” said Francois, who works for Europe 1 radio, in footage recorded by the private Turkish news agency DHA as the journalists left a police station.

Elias, a photographer, also worked for Europe 1 radio. Henin and Torres are freelance journalists.

 

DHA said soldiers on patrol found the four blindfolded and handcuffed in southeast Sanliurfa province late Friday. Turkish television showed pictures of the four at the police station and then a local hospital.

It remained unclear whether a ransom had been paid for their release, or which group had held the men. France denies it pays ransom to free its hostages.

In his statement Hollande thanked “all those” who had contributed to the journalists’ release without elaborating and said the four would return soon to France. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal declined to comment.

The four went missing in June 2013 in two incidents. Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders has called Syria “the most dangerous country in the world” for journalists. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in December that at least 30 journalists are being held and 52 have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011.

The widespread seizure of journalists is unprecedented, and has been largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help to negotiate the captives' release.

Jihadi groups, particularly an al-Qa’ida-breakaway group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, are believed responsible for most kidnappings that have taken place since 2013. Government-backed militias, criminal gangs and more moderate rebel factions also have been involved, with motives ranging from ransom to prisoner exchanges.

The release of the four French men comes after three Spanish reporters held by the group were freed in March.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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