MADRID // Three Spanish freelance journalists held captive in Syria for nearly 10 months returned home on Sunday, tearfully hugging relatives as they got off a military jet sent to Turkey to bring them back.
Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre shook hands with deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria on the tarmac of the Torrejon de Ardoz air force base on the outskirts of Madrid. They smiled and cried as relatives ran to hug them.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy posted a photograph of the journalists descending from the aircraft with a caption saying “Welcome!” on his official Twitter account.
“Allied and friendly” countries had assisted in ensuring the journalists’ release, his office said on Saturday.
It said Turkey and Qatar had helped out “especially in the final phase” of the release, but provided no information on the captors and how they were convinced to give up the journalists.
The three journalists went missing on July 12, near the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. At the time, the region was under the control of Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria known as Jabhat Al Nusra.
Foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the journalists had taken off from the Turkish city of Hatay, accompanied by ambassador Pablo Gutierrez Segou, head of consular emergencies.
“This adventure has ended happily,” Garcia-Margallo said.
Spain’s state-owned TVE television channel said the journalists had no idea what part of Syria they had been held captive in.
The broadcaster said Lopez explained that the three had been incarcerated together for the first three months, after which Pampliega was taken away and not seen again until just before the flight home.
Pampliega’s mother, Maria del Mar Rodriguez, told the Reporters Without Borders organisation that it had been “marvelous” to be able to speak with her son.
“He continually asked my forgiveness for what he’d put me through,” she said. “I’m going to prepare him a plate of spinach in bechamel sauce, his favorite dish.”
The journalists, who provided news to several media outlets, had travelled to Syria to report on the war that broke out there in 2011.
Three other Spanish journalists were released in March 2014 after being held hostage by Syrian extremists for months.
The Spanish government has never given details of how it secured the releases.
* Associated Press