Kidnapped journalists back in France as free men

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Photographer Edouard Elias and Europe 1 correspondent Didier François were travelling to Aleppo, Syria, on 06 June 2013 when they were abducted by four armed men at a checkpoint. Nicolas Hénin of Le Point magazine, and freelance photographer Pierre Torres disappeared on 22 June in Raqqa, falling into the clutches of the rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Their ordeal came to an end yesterday when they were released and brought to Syria’s Turkish border as free men – crossing into freedom their heads held high, their hands in their pockets, according to one of the hostages who spoke to France 24 last night.

Today, the four journalists were reunited with their families as they landed in Paris. “It’s a day of great happiness for them,  for their families, for their friends, for their loved ones, and for France,” said French president François Hollande on the tarmac at Villacoublay, a French military airport south of Paris.

The four hostages spent 10 months in complete darkness, at times chained to each other, with barely enough to eat each day. “It’s a huge relief to be free, to see the sky, which we haven’t seen for a long time, to breath fresh air, to talk to all of you,” said Didier François, who spoke for his colleagues on arrival in France. “It was long, but we never had any doubt because, from time to time, we heard things. We knew that everyone was supporting us – especially the French authorities.”

He added: “When we got out, we were touched to see how mobilised [the country was], this surge of solidarity, the French’s generosity when it comes to its media, its hostages, its citizens abroad. This is powerful. We’re now going to reunite with our families, who have suffered a lot more than us. We made these choices – when we were captured, we had to be in Syria to do our jobs. There was a risk, we took it and we took our responsibilities. Our families didn’t have a choice, and it’s been hard for them. We’re very happy that they weathered this ordeal we imposed on them.”

The four hostages have now been transferred to a hospital where they will undergo a check-up.

Elias, a 23-year-old photographer, is affiliated with the Haytham Pictures agency. He was freelancing for Europe 1 when he was abducted. Speaking to BJP yesterday, Christian Sauvan-Magnet, a co-founder of Haytham Pictures, commented on Elias’ release. “It’s a huge relief. We feel so much joy and relief, especially since all four hostages are coming back together. We were hoping for a positive outcome when the two Spanish journalists were released, and less than a month later, they’re coming back.”

Torrès, another freelance photographer, was covering local elections when he disappeared almost one year ago.