2 journalists back in Spain after ordeal

Rogue al-Qaeda group held pair for 6 months


MADRID — Two Spanish journalists freed after they had been held hostage for more than six months in Syria by a rogue al-Qaeda group returned home Sunday to an emotional welcome from friends and colleagues.

Reporter Javier Espinosa, Middle East bureau chief of El Mundo newspaper, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a freelance photographer, arrived in Madrid aboard a Spanish government executive jet, fewer than 24 hours after calling from Turkey to say they were free and safe.

As Mr. Espinosa walked down the steps from the plane, his son raced across the tarmac and threw his arms around his father. Other family members, newspaper representatives, and government officials also were on hand, according to video of their arrival on El Mundo’s Web site.

Mr. Espinosa and Mr. Garcia Vilanova were on a long list of journalists who have been abducted while covering the conflict in Syria, now deemed by press-advocacy groups to be the world’s most dangerous country for reporters.

Media-rights groups say nearly 30 reporters have been killed there since the conflict began in March, 2011. At least nine more foreign correspondents and 10 Syrian reporters are still missing.

Jihadi groups, such as the al-Qaeda-breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, are believed responsible for most kidnappings, but government-backed militias, criminal gangs, and other rebel factions have been involved. Most abductions have taken place in rebel-held territories, particularly in chaotic northern and eastern Syria.

Militants from the Islamic State abducted Mr. Espinosa and Mr. Garcia Vilanova at a checkpoint in the town of Tal Abyad in the eastern province of Raqqa on Sept. 16.

At a news conference Sunday at El Mundo’s Madrid headquarters, the journalists said they could not provide details of their captivity or how they won their freedom because the matter was “out of our hands.”

For friends and family, word of the journalists’ freedom was reason to rejoice. Monica Garcia Prieto, Mr. Espinosa’s partner, put it simply in a Tweet: “Pure happiness.”