Sunday, April 20, 2014

French hostages tell of Syria basement ordeal

-- BBC--

President Francois Hollande and relatives met the journalists as they arrived home
French journalists released from captivity in Syria have been speaking about their ordeal at the hands of suspected Islamist rebels.

Didier Francois said the four men were chained to each other and kept in basements without natural light.

His colleague Nicolas Henin added that they were "not always well treated".

Mr Henin and Mr Francois, along with Edouard Elias and Pierre Torres, were greeted by their families and President Francois Hollande on arrival in France.

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.
'Happy to be free'

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)

  • Jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria
  • Formed in April 2013 and grew out of al-Qaeda's affiliate organisation in Iraq
  • Leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
  • Estimated number of fighters is 3,000 to 5,000
  • Mostly active in northern and eastern provinces of Syria
Television footage after their reappearance showed the men looking unkempt, with beards and long hair, but in good health.

Mr Francois, 53, said he was "very happy to be free... to see the sky, to be able to walk and to be able to speak freely".

"We spent six whole months in basements without seeing daylight, and for two-and-a-half months we were chained to each other," he told his own radio station, Europe 1.

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

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.

The men went missing in two separate incidents last June.

Mr Francois, a veteran war correspondent, and Mr Elias, a photographer, were abducted in early June on their way to Aleppo.

Mr Henin, who was working for Le Point magazine, and Mr Torres, reporting for French-German television channel Arte, were taken later that month near Raqqa.
Freed journalists with President Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at Villacoublay air base on 20 April 2014 The journalists (from left to right) Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres were met by President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius
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.

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.

"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.

Mr Hollande also denied that France had paid a ransom.

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.
Map of Syria, showing Aleppo, Raqqa, Damascus and the town of Akcakale in the Turkish province of Sanliurfa

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