Four French journalists held hostage in Syria for ten months have been released, officials said Saturday, the latest batch of reporters to be freed in what has become the world's deadliest conflict for the media.
- Assad's Lifeline: Russia, Iran, Hezbollah
- Hezbollah, Assad Take Gloves Off Against Israel
- Syrian TV, Rebels Trade Barbs Over Gas Attack
President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement Saturday that he felt "immense relief" over the release of Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres — all said to be in good health despite the "very trying conditions" of their captivity.
"We are very happy to be free ... and it's very nice to see the sky, to be able to walk, to be able to ... speak freely," said Francois, who works for Europe 1 radio, in footage recorded by the private Turkish news agency DHA as the journalists left a police station.
Elias, a photographer, also worked for Europe 1 radio. Henin and Torres are freelance journalists.
DHA said soldiers on patrol found the four blindfolded and handcuffed in southeast Sanliurfa province late Friday. Turkish television showed pictures of the four at the police station and then a local hospital.
It wasn't clear whether a ransom had been paid for their release, nor which group in Syria's chaotic 3-year-old conflict held the men. In his statement, Hollande thanked "all those" who contributed to the journalists' release without elaborating.
Longstanding French practice is to name a specific country that contributed to hostage releases. France denies it pays ransom to free its hostages.
Hollande's office said the four would return soon to France, and it did not provide any details about the conditions of their release. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal declined to comment.
The four went missing in June 2013 in two incidents. Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders has called Syria "the most dangerous country in the world" for journalists. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in December that at least 30 journalists are being held and 52 have been killed since Syria's civil war began in early 2011.
The widespread seizure of journalists is unprecedented, and has been largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the kidnappings out of public view may help to negotiate the captives' release.
Jihadi groups, particularly an al-Qaida-breakaway group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, are believed responsible for most kidnappings that have taken place since 2013. Government-backed militias, criminal gangs and more moderate rebel factions also have been involved, with motives ranging from ransom to prisoner exchanges.
The release of the four French men comes after three Spanish reporters held by the group were freed in March.
Meanwhile, violence continued Saturday in Syria, as rebel car bombings killed at least 10 people, officials and activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one car bomb killed at least four people in the city of Homs, in an area dominated by Alawites — the same sect as President Bashar Assad.
State-run television also reported the bombing but did not immediately have a death toll.
Earlier in the day, another car bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint near the government-controlled town of Salamiya, killing at least six soldiers, activists said. A Syrian government official confirmed the bombing but said four people were killed and nine were wounded. Conflicting death tolls are routine after such attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to journalists.