Spanish reporter freed from Syria is relieved and grateful

AP News
Posted: May 09, 2016 11:33 AM
Spanish reporter freed from Syria is relieved and grateful

MADRID (AP) — One of the three Spanish freelance journalists released after nearly 10 months of captivity in Syria said Monday he feels like he is "walking on air" after being reunited with his family in Spain — a reunion made possible by help from Turkey and Qatar.

Angel Sastre told Onda Cero radio station he is grateful for the government's efforts to secure the men's release but gave no details about their captivity or how they came home.

The three went missing on July 12 near the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. They arrived in Madrid on Sunday on a Spanish military jet sent to Turkey to bring them back.

The Spanish government has not disclosed any information about how it won the men's freedom. However, acting Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Antena 3 radio Monday it was "a big relief" when officials discovered that the men had been taken by the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria, and not the Islamic State group which commonly kills captives.

"It gave us some degree of comfort, within the anxiety of having three countrymen abducted and with some dark times when we had no news," Garcia-Margallo said. "The intelligence service did a magnificent job."

Garcia-Margallo also thanked Turkey and Qatar for their help, but did not offer specifics.

Tanju Bilgic, spokesman for Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that the Turkish intelligence agency cooperated with its Spanish counterpart but said he wasn't authorized to provide operational details.

The only official word about Qatar's role came in a brief statement late Saturday night on the official Qatar News Agency saying that Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ignacio Ybanez thanked Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad al-Muraikhi for Qatar's efforts.

The Qatari government media office did not immediately respond to questions Monday about Qatar's role or whether any money was exchanged to secure the journalists' release.

Qatar in the past has helped facilitate the release of other captives held by Syrian rebels, including a group of Greek Orthodox nuns and American journalist Peter Theo Curtis held by the Nusra Front.

Former Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah told The Associated Press last August that talks to free those previous captives happened with the help of intermediaries in Syria.

Qatar is part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS and hosts U.S. warplanes and military commanders at its vast al-Udeid air base.


Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Dominique Soguel from Istanbul.