Turkish cameraman set free by captors in Syria

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2012 11:30 AM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish cameraman captured by Syrian forces while covering fighting in the city of Aleppo in August has been released and will return to Turkey, the delegation that negotiated his freedom with Syrian President Bashar Assad told Turkish media on Saturday.

Cameraman Cuneyt Unal and reporter Bashar Fahmi — a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin — had been missing since August. They were believed to have been captured by Syrian government forces. Both were working for the U.S.-based Alhurra TV.

Turkish legislator Hasan Akgol said Saturday that Unal was in Damascus and would return to Turkey later in the day with a Turkish opposition party delegation, which held talks with Assad and other Syrian officials for his release. There was no information on Fahmi's whereabouts.

Unal told Turkey's NTV television in a telephone interview that he and Fahmi were caught up in the fighting in the city of Aleppo on Aug. 20 that killed Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto. He said that Fahmi was seriously injured in the fighting.

The cameraman carried his injured colleague into an apartment building where some Aleppo residents tended to his wound. Unal left the building to seek more help but was captured by a group of people who later handed him over to Syrian government forces.

Unal said he had been held locked up alone in a prison cell in Aleppo for the past three months, living on "bread and potatoes," but was not ill-treated. His captors even took him to hospital for treatment when he became ill, he told NTV television.

He was brought to Damascus three days ago.

Unal, sounding emotional, said he was happy to be released but was still "in shock."

"I didn't know I was going to be released until I saw the (Turkish) delegation in front of me. I cried when I saw them," he said. "I missed my wife, my daughter and my family."

In the United States, the Broadcasting Board of Governors welcomed news of Unal's release but expressed concern over the lack of news on Fahmi. The Broadcasting Board of Governors is funded by the U.S. Congress and runs several broadcast networks for foreign news, including the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti, which broadcasts to Cuba.

"We are relieved that Cuneyt will be reunited safely with his family," said Michael Meehan, the chairman of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and a member of the broadcast board. "The lack of information on Bashar Fahmi is profoundly troubling."

Akgol told reporters in Damascus that the Syrian authorities were investigating what had happened to Fahmi and would hand him over to Turkey if he is found.

"We also want to take (Fahmi) to Turkey. But we don't know if he is alive or not," the private Dogan news agency quoted Akgol telling reporters. "The Syrian authorities are investigating."