Spain seeks three journalists missing in Syria
MADRID - The Associated Press
REUTERS photoSpanish intelligence agents were working urgently on July 22 to track down three journalists from Spain, the latest foreigners to go missing while reporting in war-torn Syria.
Spain’s foreign minister said embassies and the intelligence service were “fully active” in the search for the three who have been missing for 10 days in a war zone where numerous foreigners have been kidnapped in the past.
The journalists have not been heard from since 10 days ago, when they were reporting in Aleppo, a city in northwestern Syria that has been devastated by fighting, the Spanish press federation FAPE said.
Officials could not yet confirm whether the men had been kidnapped.
Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo called for caution over reports that the Spaniards were seen being taken away by men in an area of Aleppo controlled by several rebel groups.
“No demands have been made so far” by any apparent captors, said Garcia-Margallo.
“I express my solidarity with the media and ask that we be left to work discreetly, because believe me, that is the best thing for your colleagues,” he added.
A local monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cited witnesses saying the three were seen being taken away in the Maadi district on July 13.
Garcia-Margallo said he had been in contact with various embassies, United Nations representatives and members of Spain’s National Intelligence Centre in Syria.
The Spanish press federation FAPE identified the three journalists as Jose Manuel Lopez, Antonio Pampliega and Angel Sastre.
They entered Syria via southern Turkey on July 10 and were last seen on July 12, said Elsa Gonzalez, president of the Federation of Press Associations of Spain.
“In that region there is intense fighting going on, so there is cause for concern,” she said.
The journalists’ families called for “respect” and “the greatest possible discretion” in the case, in a statement quoted by Spanish media.
The three journalists had worked recently for various media including Spanish newspapers La Razon and ABC, which was the first on Tuesday to report their disappearance.
Pampliega, a freelance war journalist born in 1982, contributed to AFP’s text coverage of the civil war in Syria for a period up to 2013.
Lopez, born in 1971, is a prize-winning photographer who contributed images to AFP from several warzones, including from the Syrian conflict up until 2013 and Iraq, in 2014.
According to data on the website of the Madrid Press Association, Sastre, 35, has worked in trouble spots around the world for Spanish television, radio and press.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders ranks Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
It says at least 44 journalists have been killed since the conflict broke out in 2011 in Syria, where various armed factions are battling President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and each other.
According to RSF, at least 30 journalists and bloggers continue to be held in the Syrian regime’s many jails.
It says at least 25 others, including six foreigners, are either missing or being held hostage by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or other armed extremist groups.
In 2013 three other Spanish journalists were seized by ISIL.
El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were held for about six months and freed in March 2014. Marc Marginedas of El Periodico newspaper was released separately that month.
Friends of a Japanese journalist, Junpei Yasuda, have been quoted by media as saying they have not heard from him since late June, and believe him to be in Syria.
The Japanese government said it had no information to indicate Yasuda had been detained or was in Syria.