Conflict & Justice

Two foreign journalists freed by rebel fighters in Syria


Two foreign journalists were rescued after being held hostage by Islamic extremists in Syria. Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans said he suspected the rescuers were members of the Free Syrian Army.



Two European journalists held hostage for a week in Syria were rescued by anti-government opposition fighters.

Award-winning Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans and British photographer John Cantlie were held by a group of Islamic extremists at a camp in Syria, reports the New York Times.

The New York Times said it spoke to Oerlemans by phone from Turkey where he called their escape “extremely lucky” and said the captors were not Syrian, but he suspected they were jihadists from Bangladesh, Britain, Chechnya and Pakistan.

“They were definitely quite extreme in their religious beliefs,” Oerlemans told the newspaper. “All day we were spoken to about the Koran and how they would bring Sharia law to Syria. I don’t think they were Al Qaeda, they seemed too amateurish for that. They said, ‘We’re not Al Qaeda, but Al Qaeda is down the road.’ ”

The Associated Press is reporting that Oerlemans said in the interview he and Cantile entered Syria on July 19 and were captured upon crossing the border.

"You go with a donkey caravan over the border," he said. "It went left, we went right and walked into a camp of 20 tents and in no time we had a circle of men around us with Kalashnikovs and we were taken captive."

Oerlemans was working in Syria on assignment for Britain’s Panos Pictures, Josh Lustig assignments editor for Panos, confirmed to Lustig told NBC that the local man hired as a guide by the photographers accidentally led them into the camp run by extremist fighters.

The two men were freed on Thursday evening when a group of fighters entered the camp and demanded their release. Oerlemans told the New York Times he suspected their rescuers were from the Free Syrian Army.

Radio Netherlands reported that Oerlemans is wounded but is said to be in reasonable condition after the ordeal. The Dutch Foreign Ministry stressed to the radio station that it was government policy not to negotiate with kidnappers or pay ransom.