Kidnapped journalists land back in Spain

El Mundo reporter and photographer free after spending six months as prisoners in Syria

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:57am


Two Spanish journalists taken hostage in Syria by an al-Qaeda-linked group returned to Madrid in a military plane yesterday after six months in captivity.

El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa, 49, and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, 42, were "freed and handed over to the Turkish military", the Spanish newspaper had said on its website earlier in the day.

Espinosa called El Mundo's offices on Saturday evening and said they were in good health, it added.

"Pure happiness," wrote Espinosa's girlfriend, the journalist Monica Garcia Prieto, on Twitter.

The pair arrived at Torrejon de Ardoz airbase near Madrid in the afternoon where they were welcomed by friends and family.

Espinosa, 49, and Vilanova, 42, were seized on September 16 as they tried to cross the Syrian border to Turkey, the latest of scores of journalists captured while covering Syria's civil war. There was no immediate word on whether any demands were made by their kidnappers or if any ransom was paid.

"It has been a hard few months. We knew the wait would be long but you never get used to it," said Ana Alonso Montes, the director of El Mundo's international pages. "You never know when the moment of liberation will come, although we never doubted it would," she told national radio.

Award-winning reporter Espinosa has been a Middle East correspondent for El Mundo since 2002 and is based in Beirut.

"We believe the Syrian people need our work, and that we must live up to our responsibility," said Prieto, who is also a prize-winning journalist, in December.

A third Spanish journalist seized separately in Syria in September, Marc Marginedas, a correspondent for El Periodico, was freed early this month.