Spanish journalists freed after being kidnapped in Syria

Three Spanish journalists believed to be kidnapped in Syria last year have been released

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

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.

Three Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria some 10 months ago have been freed, the Spanish Press Federation (FAPE) and government said on Saturday.

The trio, who had been working for various Spanish media around the time of their disappearance, were last seen in July 2015 in the northwestern city of Aleppo where they had been reporting on fighting.

"All three have been released, Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre, and are on their way (to Spain)," added FAPE president Elsa Gonzalez.

A government spokeswoman in a statement confirmed the release "a few hours ago", adding that "all three are well".

Their release had been "possible thanks to the collaboration of allies and friends especially in the final phase from Turkey and Qatar", the statement added.

After the men 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 reporter 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, had also worked in trouble spots around the world for Spanish television, radio and press.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders 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 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 DAESH terrorists.

In August 2014, the group decapitated US journalist James Foley, who was seized in northern Syria in 2012.

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

In 2015, militants from the group beheaded Japanese war correspondent Kenji Goto.

Last month a video emerged of another Japanese journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, apparently asking for Tokyo's help in securing his release.

A British journalist, John Cantlie, who was kidnapped alongside James Foley, has appeared in a series of propaganda videos released by DAESH, in which he speaks to the camera in the style of a news report.

The last such video, supposedly filmed in DAESH Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, was released by the group in March.

RSF has condemned DAESH for its "cowardly" use of a hostage in a forced role to push propaganda.