French hostages arrive home from Syria

Four journalists were held captive in Syria for more than ten months

French president  Francois Hollande (C) speaks with former French hostages and journalists, from L-R, Didier Francois, Edouard Elias , Nicolas Henin, who holds his children, Pierre Torres and France’s roreign minister Laurent Fabius, moments after their arrival by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris today. Photograph: Reuters

French president Francois Hollande (C) speaks with former French hostages and journalists, from L-R, Didier Francois, Edouard Elias , Nicolas Henin, who holds his children, Pierre Torres and France’s roreign minister Laurent Fabius, moments after their arrival by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in Villacoulbay, near Paris today. Photograph: Reuters

Sun, Apr 20, 2014, 09:32

Four French journalists held captive in Syria for more than 10 months returned home to France today, freshly shaved and beaming, where they were met at an airbase by president Francois Hollande, their families and friends.

Nicolas Henin, Pierre Torres, Edouard Elias and Didier Francois smiled at a crowd of journalists, some of them colleagues, after descending from a military helicopter at the Villacoublay airbase southwest of Paris.

“It’s a great joy and an immense relief, obviously, to be free. Under the sky, which we haven’t seen for a long time, to breathe the fresh air, walk freely,” veteran Europe 1 reporter Francois said in an impromptu speech at the side of his fellow ex-hostages and Mr Hollande.

French authorities have released no details of their liberation, but Turkey’s Dogan News Agency first reported that an unknown group transported the journalists blindfolded and with hands bound on Friday night to the southeastern border of Turkey, where they were discovered by Turkish soldiers.

After identifying themselves as journalists, the group was taken to police headquarters in Sanliurfa province and seen by doctors, Turkish authorities said.

Henin told France 24 radio yesterday that they had not been bound and blindfolded at the border.

Today he told reporters on the tarmac, however, that the four had “not always” been treated well and had been moved from place to place many times by their captors.

Visibly moved and flanked by his two young children, he said the hardest part was being separated from his family. “What’s the best thing for a father? To have your two kids in your arms,” Henin said.

Neither Turkish nor French authorities have identified the journalists’ captors, but Dogan said it was the rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Francois and Europe 1 photographer Elias were abducted in early June en route to Aleppo.

Henin, working for Le Point magazine, and Torres, for French-German television channel Arte, were captured later in June, but French authorities did not announce their kidnapping until October.

Images from Turkish TV yesterday showed the men, smiling and fully bearded, being escorted through what appeared to be an airport after they were freed.

Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Two French citizens remain missing after being kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and 2012. Last month, two Spanish journalists were freed after being held hostage in Syria since September by the ISIL rebel group.

Agencies