Freed journalists back on French soil

AFP - [email protected]
Freed journalists back on French soil
Francois Hollande welcomes French journalists Didier Francois, Edouard Elias, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres at the Villacoublay air base southwest of Paris. AFP Photo/Thomas Samson

Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria arrived home on Sunday to an emotional reunion with family and colleagues after spending 10 months in captivity in the world's most dangerous country for the media.


French President Francois Hollande said it was "a day of joy for France" as he met the four men at military airbase outside Paris where they touched down early Sunday.

Hollande said France was "proud" to count the freed journalists among its citizens, and to have secured their release, but cautioned that "there are still hostages being held in Syria because they are journalists."

Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres were captured in two separate incidents in June last year while covering the conflict in Syria and freed over the weekend.

Looking thin and tired but overjoyed to be home, they hugged relatives and colleagues waiting on the tarmac at Villacoublay air base southwest of Paris.

"It was a long haul, but we never lost hope," said 53-year-old Francois in an emotional speech to the media after arriving at Villacoublay.

"From time to time, we got snatches of information, we knew that the world was mobilised," said Francois, a highly respected and experienced war reporter for Europe 1 radio.

Thanking the French diplomats and secret services who worked to secure the hostages' release, Francois said he was moved by the "degree of mobilisation, this outburst of solidarity, this generosity that the French people have when it comes to their media, their hostages, their fellow citizens abroad."

The men arrived in France early Sunday on a military plane from Turkey, before being flown by helicopter to Villacoublay, where they will undergo medical checks.

Hollande said on Saturday they were "in good health despite the very challenging conditions of their captivity".

Turkish soldiers found them abandoned in no-man's land on the border with Syria overnight Friday to Saturday, wearing blindfolds and with their hands bound.

The Turkish soldiers initially thought they were smugglers, but took them to a police station in the small town of Akcakle near the border when they realised they were speaking French.

Around 30 foreign journalists covering the Syrian civil war have been seized since the conflict began in March 2011, and many are still missing.


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