PARIS: Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria were reunited with family and colleagues yesterday in an emotional homecoming after 10 months in captivity during which they were chained together and held in dingy basements.
Looking thin and tired but overjoyed, the men hugged relatives and colleagues waiting at an air base southwest of Paris where they flew in early yesterday from Turkey. “It was a long haul, but we never lost hope,” said radio reporter Didier Francois, who, like the rest of the group, had shaved the long beard he grew in captivity before the reunion at the Villacoublay base.
“From time to time, we got snatches of information, we knew that the world was mobilised,” said Francois, 53, an experienced and highly respected war reporter for Europe 1 radio.
Francois said the conditions of their captivity had been “tough”. We “stayed 10 whole months in basements without ever seeing daylight”, including a month and a half with “all of us chained together”, he said.
“In a country at war things are not always simple, when it comes to food, water, electricity, sometimes things were a bit hairy, the fighting was close by.”
President Francois Hollande said it was “a day of joy for France” as he met the four men at Villacoublay, where they were due to undergo medical checks.
Francois and photographer Edouard Elias, 23, were taken north of the main northern Syrian city of Aleppo on June 6.
Nicolas Henin, a 37-year-old reporter for Le Point magazine, and freelance photographer Pierre Torres, 29, were seized two weeks later, also in the north of the country, at Raqqa.
They were held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the precise conditions of their release remain unclear. Hollande reiterated that France “does not pay ransoms” for hostages, and said “all is done through negotiation and discussion”.
A source close to the matter said French intelligence services had tracked the journalists and were “constantly able to locate them”, working to free them with help from the US, Britain, Spain and Turkey. Turkish soldiers found the men abandoned in a no-man’s land on the border with Syria on Saturday, blindfolded and with their hands bound. AFP