World & Nation

Spanish journalists freed after six months in captivity in Syria

Spanish journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova.
Spanish journalists Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, left, and Javier Espinosa, at a ceremony for the Miguel Gil Journalism Awards in Barcelona, Spain, were held captive for six months in Syria.
(Joan Borras / Associated Press)

AMMAN, Jordan -- Two Spanish journalists taken hostage in Syria more than six months ago have been freed, their newspaper said.

Javier Espinoza, a staff writer at Spain’s El Mundo daily newspaper, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a photographer, were handed over to authorities in Turkey on Sunday after having been abducted last September.

The pair had been captured by the extremist splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, as they were leaving Syria after a two-week reporting trip, according to the El Mundo website. The paper did not divulge details of the release.

“I’m Javier Espinosa. Write down this phone number and call me back now. We’re fine. Both of us, Ricardo and me,” Espinosa said in his first communication with El Mundo’s newsroom in 194 days, according to the newspaper’s website.


The kidnapping had occurred near the Tal Al-Abyadh checkpoint in the province of Raqaa, an ISIS stronghold. Espinosa, 49, and Vilanova, 42, were being escorted at the time by four fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who were to have provided protection.

The fighters were released 12 days later, but no demands were made in exchange for the release of the Spaniards, the paper reported.

Although journalists were initially welcomed by Syrians eager to highlight their struggle against the government, the emergence of extremist groups such as ISIS and the often violent jockeying for power among different factions brought to prominence the phenomenon of journalist kidnappings. Syria was also the deadliest country for journalists in 2012 and 2013, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

With their disappearance, the pair, both veterans of several conflicts who had made numerous trips into the ravaged northern region of Syria, joined 60 other foreign and Syrian correspondents who had been taken hostage during the three-year civil war between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and armed opposition rebels. The conflict has left an estimated 140,000 dead and millions more homeless.


Marc Marginedas, another Spanish journalist kidnapped at the same time as Espinosa and Vilanova, was released earlier this month. El Mundo’s website hailed the freedom of all three.

“Some believe in luck, others in miracles,” it said.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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