MADRID (AP) — Two Spanish journalists who were freed after being kidnapped for six months in Syria by a rogue al-Qaida group are flying back home Sunday, Spain’s Defense Ministry said.
Newspaper El Mundo reported earlier that its war correspondent Javier Espinosa made contact from Turkey, where he and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were under military protection.
A ministry spokesman said an aircraft was sent to pick up the journalists and was due in Madrid midafternoon Sunday.
It was not clear whether the journalists had escaped or were released by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which abducted them Sept. 16.
Following news of their release, Monica Garcia Prieto, Espinosa’s partner, sent a Tweet saying: “Pure happiness.”
Syria remains the most dangerous conflict in the world for reporters, partially because of the risk of kidnapping by pro-government forces or rebels. The release of the two Spanish correspondents leaves at least another nine foreign correspondents missing in Syria as well as 10 Syrian reporters.
Press freedom groups say the Islamic State is believed to be responsible for many kidnappings and deaths since it muscled into northern and central Syria.
The Islamic State took the two Spaniards captive six months ago at a checkpoint in the town of Tal Abyad in the eastern province of Raqqa, where they are the dominant faction.
The Hanein Network, a militant website that carries al-Qaida statements, issued a plea to the Islamic State in December to release Espinosa and Garcia Vilanova, describing them as “men who risked their lives to report the truth.”
Its home page shows the Spaniards in a soft-focus background. A masked militant of the Islamic State stands in the foreground, holding two cats, in an apparent appeal to the group’s sentimental side.
Another Spanish reporter who was seized by the Islamic State in September, Marc Marginedas, was released earlier this month.
Hadid reported from Beirut. With reporting by Maamoun Yousssef in Cairo.