Monday, December 9, 2013

Syria: El Mundo: Two Spanish Journalists, Four Members of Free Syrian Army Kidnapped

According to AFP, a reported radical group linked to al-Qaeda kidnapped two Spanish journalists reporting in Syria were abducted on September 16 and is holding them captive, Spain's "El Mundo" reported on Tuesday (December 10).

"El Mundo" correspondent Javier Espinosa and Ricardo García Vilanova, the latter of whom is a freelance photographer, were seized on September 16 in Raqqa province, the Spanish daily said on its website.

Espinosa has been a Middle East correspondent for El Mundo since 2002, based in Beirut. Like Garcia, Espinosa has covered some of the most dangerous points in the Syrian conflict, including the siege of Homs in February 2012.

On February 22, 2013, Espinosa escaped that bloodbath in Homs, in which human rights groups said 700 people were killed and thousands injured. Espinosa made it back to Beirut a week later.

The two journalists were kidnapped at a checkpoint near the Turkish border as they tried to leave Syria at the end of a two-week reporting mission.

In addition, the two journalists were captured along with four members of the Free Syrian Army, the main western-backed rebel group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, who were supposed to protect them, "El Mundo" reported. The four Syrians were later released.

COMMENT: The newspaper identified the captors as members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist faction in Syria. The group was previously considered to be linked to al-Qaeda, yet the network's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ordered ISIL to be abolished in a message aired in November.

"El Mundo" said it had kept the kidnapping quiet until now while it held indirect communications with the captors, who have still not asked for anything in return for their captives.

Among those killed in Homs were two other western journalists: US reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

Espinosa wrote of his escape from the city, under fire among a crowd of wounded refugees, in a compelling reportage published on March 3.

García Vilanova has worked for media organizations such as THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST and AFP, for whom he has contributed reports from Libya and Syria.

Media rights campaign group, Reporters Without Borders, ranks Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Twenty-five journalists have been killed there since the start of the conflict in early 2011, and a similar number are missing or detained.

Among the missing is another AFP contributor, US freelancer James Foley. He was seized by gunmen in the northern Syrian province of Idlib on November 22, 2012.

Another Spanish journalist was kidnapped in Syria in early September. Marc Marginedas, a correspondent for the Catalan daily EL PERIODICO, has been "in the hands of an insurgent group" since September 4, the newspaper announced on September 23.