After almost 10 months of captivity in Syria, three Spanish freelance journalists have been freed.
Antonio Pampliega, José Manuel López, and Ángel Sastre crossed into Syria from its northern border with Turkey last July to report on the fighting in and around Aleppo, where they subsequently went missing.
Spain’s public broadcaster carried emotional scenes of the three descending from the airplane and embracing loved ones on the airport tarmac.
They landed at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base in Madrid on a Defense Ministry plane, according to a statement from the Spanish government.
Major questions remain – it’s still not clear which group was holding the journalists, or who mediated their release. But as NPR’s Alice Fordham told our Newscast unit, “Spanish newspaper El Pais reports Spanish government sources say their release was facilitated by Turkey and Qatar, who have contact with many rebel groups, including Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate.”
That affiliate – Jabhat al-Nusra – was in control of an area north of Aleppo at the time, where it is believed the journalists were kidnapped, The Associated Press reported.
The three journalists told the EFE news agency that they did not know which area of the country they were held during the 10 months.
They say their kidnappers treated them well, according to RTVE. Pampliega was separated from the other two for the last seven months, and they had not heard any news from him until their release, RTVE reported. The three added that they were “overwhelmed” and asked for privacy.
According to The Associated Press, “it is widely believed that their government paid a ransom for their release, although it has not been officially confirmed.”
Over the course of the war in Syria, journalists have been repeatedly kidnapped and held by a number of different militant organizations and by the Syrian government.
The U.S. and European countries have taken different approaches to the kidnappings. As The New York Times reported, “many European countries have funneled ransoms to terrorists to rescue their citizens, a tactic the United States has steadfastly refused to pursue, arguing that it encourages more kidnappings.”
Two other Spanish journalists were freed in 2014 after months of captivity in Syria.
Last month, the Syrian government released a U.S. citizen, Kevin Dawes, following lengthy negotiations. He was held for four years.
American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria in August 2012, and he remains missing.