Three Spanish journalists return home after Syria kidnapping ordeal
MADRID - Agence France-Presse
This combination of undated file handout pictures in unspecified locations created on May 7, 2016 shows (L to R) Spanish freelance journalist Angel Sastre, Spanish freelance journalist Antonio Pampliega and Spanish freelance journalist Jose Manuel Lopez. AFP photoThree Spanish freelance journalists who were kidnapped in Syria nearly 10 months ago returned to Spain on May 8 to be reunited with their families.
The trio, all experienced conflict zone reporters, arrived at the Torrejon air base near Madrid on a flight from Turkey, the government said in a statement.
Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre were last seen in July 2015 in the northwestern city of Aleppo where they had been reporting on fighting.
They were working for various Spanish media around the time of their disappearance.
The government and the Spanish Press Federation announced the release of the three men late on May 7, saying they were in good health.
Pampliega's mother Maria del Mar Rodriguez Vega said she planned to cook her son's favourite dish to celebrate his return -- spinach with bechamel.
"It was wonderful when I spoke to him by telephone," she said in a statement released by the Spanish wing of the international media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders, which is also known by its French acronym RSF.
"He had the same voice as always, from when he was a child, he repeatedly asked me to forgive me for what he made me go through," she added.
Reacting to news of their release, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted a photograph showing the three journalists descending from a plane. "Welcome!" he wrote.
Pampliega's sister Alejandra meanwhile said on Twitter that the three reporters' release was "the best news in the world".
The journalists' release had been "possible thanks to the collaboration of allies and friends especially in the final phase from Turkey and Qatar", the government said in a statement.
No further details were immediately available on how the release was secured.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, the three reporters were last seen in a rebel-held area of Aleppo on July 13, 2015, when they were travelling in a van together before being taken by armed men.
Some Spanish media, including top-selling daily newspaper El Pais, said the three were held by Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.
After they disappeared, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said officials were working with members of Spain's National Intelligence Centre who were in Syria to try and secure their release.
Pampliega, a freelance war correspondent born in 1982, contributed to AFP's text coverage of the civil war in Syria for a period up to 2013.
A passionate reporter who tended to focus on human interest stories, he also contributed to AFP's coverage in Iraq.
Lopez, born in 1971, is a prize-winning photographer who contributed images to AFP from several war zones, including from the Syrian conflict up until 2013 and Iraq in 2014.
Sastre, 35, has worked in trouble spots around the world, including Syria, for Spanish television, radio and press.
Elsa Gonzalez, the president of the Spanish Press Federation (FAPE), spoke of her "joy" over the freeing of the journalists.
"Fortunately it all ended well. It lasted longer than we wanted but it appears that they are all in very good health," she told AFP.
RSF in 2015 ranked Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists along with Iraq.
It says 10 journalists died in 2015 in Syria, where various armed factions are battling President Bashar al-Assad's regime and each other.
The release follows the freeing in 2013 of three other Spanish journalists.
El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa, freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova and Marc Marginedas of El Periodico newspaper were all released after being seized by the Islamic State group.
In August 2014, IS murdered US journalist James Foley, who was taken hostage in northern Syria in 2012.
The following month, the group killed fellow US journalist Steven Sotloff.