Four French journalists released in Syria

Four French journalists who had been missing in Syria for 10 months were released on April 18, 2014, according to news reports. The journalists returned home in good health on April 20, 2014, the reports said.

Didier François, reporter for the French radio station Europe 1, and photographer Edouard Elias were kidnapped on June 6, 2013, near Aleppo, according to news reports. Freelancers Nicolas Hénin and Pierre Torres were abducted a few weeks later in the city of Raqqa on June 22, 2013.

Press reports said the journalists had been abducted by the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), but there was no official confirmation from French authorities, who only referred to the kidnappers as “terrorists.”

Some press reports claimed a ransom was paid to secure their release, but the French authorities repeatedly denied paying ransom or giving arms to the hostage takers, saying that such actions would encourage future abductions. The French government said the release came after a long and delicate negotiation process and thanked Turkish and other governments for their assistance.

Original reports that the journalists were found bound and blindfolded were denied by French authorities and by Elias, who told Europe 1 the release was “coordinated.”

In multiple interviews, the journalists said they were sometimes treated roughly by their captors and were subject to mock executions. Hénin said he tried to escape after three days, but was caught. François said that for the first few days of his captivity with Elias, the kidnappers denied them food and access to a bathroom. He said his captors also never allowed their faces to be seen, warning the journalists they would never be released if the captors’ identities were known.

Yet the 10 months of captivity also revealed the sometimes mundane and bizarre aspects of kidnapping cases in Syria. François recounted to Europe 1 how the journalists made makeshift chess pieces and, in one instance, got into a snowball fight with their captors. Similar stories have been told by other kidnapped journalists, like freelancer Jonathan Alpeyrie, who gave swimming lessons to one of his abductors.