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Three Spanish journalists return home after Syria kidnapping ordeal: govt

“The Spanish journalists Jose Manuel Lopez, Angel Sastre and Antonio Pampliega who were kidnapped in Aleppo in northern Syria almost 10 months ago have arrived at Torrejon air base” near Madrid, the government said in a statement.

The trio were last seen in July 2015 in the northwestern city of Aleppo where they had been reporting on fighting.

They had been 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 Saturday, saying they were in well and in Turkey, waiting for their flight back to Spain.

Pampliega’s mother Maria del Mar Rodriguez Vega said she planned to cook her son’s favourite dish – 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.

The release of the three journalists 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.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist-based 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 Nusra Front.

After they disappeared, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said officials were working with members of Spain’s National Intelligence Center who were in Syria to try and secure their release.

– ‘Most dangerous’ country –

The three freed Spaniards are all experienced conflict zone reporters.

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 Assad’s government and each other.

The release of the three 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 ISIS.

In August 2014, ISIS decapitated U.S. journalist James Foley, who was seized in northern Syria in 2012.

The following month, the group murdered fellow U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff.



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