Syria crisis: Freed Spanish journalists back in Spain

Javier Espinosa's son Yerai ran to greet his father at Torrejon de Ardoz airbase

Two Spanish journalists taken hostage in Syria have returned to Madrid after six months in captivity.

El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were earlier freed and handed over to the Turkish military.

The pair arrived at Torrejon de Ardoz airbase, where they were welcomed by overjoyed friends and family.

Scores of journalists are believed to have been kidnapped or killed by rebel fighters in Syria.

Freed freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova arrives at Torrejon de Ardoz airbase After arriving, Mr Garcia Vilanova attended a press conference with Mr Espinosa at El Mundo's office in Madrid

Mr Espinosa, 49, and Mr Vilanova, 42, were seized by al-Qaeda-linked militants The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), near the Turkish border in September.

El Mundo said that the two journalists had at the time been trying to leave Syria at the end of a two-week reporting mission.

Four members of the Free Syrian Army - the main Western-backed rebel group - who were protecting them were also captured but later released.

High risk

The Spanish daily said the kidnapping was initially kept quiet at the request of the men's families. Many kidnappings are played down in the hope of aiding negotiations.

In December, 13 major international news organisations signed a letter urging Syrian rebel groups to stop kidnapping journalists, and to free those currently held.

Correspondents say ISIS assumes all foreign journalists and aid workers in Syria are spies and has issued orders to arrest them.

The high risk of kidnapping has made many rebel-held areas of Syria no-go areas for most foreign journalists.

The Free Syrian Army's political wing - the Syrian National Coalition - says it is committed to protecting journalists, and securing the release of hostages.

Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, right Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, right, had been documenting the conflict
'Most dangerous'

Mr Espinosa has been a Middle East correspondent for El Mundo since 2002 and is based in Beirut.

Mr Vilanova has worked for various news outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the AFP news agency.

The group Reporters Without Borders has called Syria the most dangerous country for journalists.

It says 17 foreign journalists and more than 20 Syrian news providers are currently being held hostage by rebel groups or are missing, while about 40 Syrian professional and citizen journalists are being held by the government.

Many others have disappeared since the conflict began in March 2011.

More than 100,000 people have died since rebels took up arms against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

An additional 2.5 million refugees are thought to have fled the conflict in Syria, with a further 6.5 million displaced inside the country.

Javier Espinosa (L) and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova With Javier Espinosa (left) and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova (right) free, there are at least nine more foreign reporters, and at least 10 Syrian journalists, still missing in Syria

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