Abducted Swedish journalists released in Syria

Associated Press SHARE

By KARL RITTER, Associated Press

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two Swedish journalists who were abducted in Syria have been released after a month and a half in captivity, Swedish and Red Cross officials said Wednesday.

One of them told a Swedish newspaper he had been shot in the leg during a failed escape attempt.

"I was extremely lucky to make it without bleeding to death," photographer Niclas Hammarstrom was quoted as saying by Aftonbladet, his former employer.

Hammarstrom and reporter Magnus Falkehed, both freelancers, were abducted on their way out of Syria in November.

Swedish officials declined to say who seized them or how they were set free. Sweden's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday confirmed their release and said both were receiving assistance from Swedish diplomats in Beirut.

Hammarstrom told Aftonbladet that he and Falkehed were kidnapped by criminals on Nov. 23. He said they tried to escape just days later, but their captors found out about their plans. Hammarstrom said he was shot in the left leg during the escape attempt, while Falkehed was unharmed.

"Then they beat us thoroughly with different weapons," Hammarstrom was quoted as saying by phone from Beirut.

He said the kidnappers brought a doctor to tend to his wound, and that the bullet hadn't struck any vital parts. Apart from the injury he was in good physical condition, though he had lost weight during captivity, Hammarstrom said.

He told the paper he was released Sunday during "dramatic" circumstances but didn't give details. He said Falkehed was set free on Wednesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it helped transport one of the journalists on Wednesday from the Syrian-Lebanese border town of Arsal to Beirut, where he was handed over to Swedish Embassy officials. The other journalist returned to Beirut earlier on his own, said Samar el Kadi, an ICRC official in Beirut.

El Kadi said the ICRC was not involved in negotiations for their release, adding that the transport was carried out upon the embassy's request.

In Sweden, police said they had worked closely with other authorities to secure the journalists' release, but declined to give more information.

"We are grateful that they are safe," national police spokeswoman Jessica Krasser Fremnell said.

Press advocacy groups say Syria has become the most dangerous country in the world for reporters over the past two years, with kidnappings becoming a major threat.

"Great relief that the two Swedish journalists are out of Syria. But unfortunately there are still others held against their will," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter.

Jihadi groups are believed responsible for most kidnappings since the summer, but government-backed militias, criminal gangs and rebels affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army also have been involved, with various motives. Most kidnappings since the summer have taken place in rebel-held territories, particularly in chaotic northern and eastern Syria, where militant al-Qaida-linked groups hold influence.

___

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Malin Rising in Stockholm contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.