Magnus Falkehed and Niclas Hammarström. Photo: Sophie Bassouls and Leif R Jansson/TT
Syria

Swedish reporters abducted in Syria now free

Swedish journalists Niclas Hammarström and Magnus Falkehed have been released after being held captive in Syria for 44 and 46 days, respectively.

Lina Eidemark of the Foreign Ministry told Swedish Radio News that two reporters are currently in Beirut, where they are being assisted by Swedish embassy staff and are waiting to be reunited with their families.

Tabloid Aftonbladet has spoken to Hammarström, who said he was shot in the leg while trying to escape from his captors. "I was incredibly lucky not to bleed to death," Hammarström said over the phone from Beirut.

The Red Cross in Lebanon told Swedish Radio News that they had brought one of the two Swedes, on the Swedish embassy's request, from eastern Lebanon to Beirut. The other journalist was already at the embassy then, according to the International Red Cross.

"We transported one of them today. The other one had reportedly already been released a few days ago, but we were not involved in his transportation," said Samar Elkadi of the Red Cross in Beirut.

Niclas Hammarström's father, Hans Hammarström, told Swedish Radio's P4 Extra programme that the news were "wonderful" and that he had spoken to his son.

"We both asked each other how the other was doing and if everything was good, and he was doing well. We haven't had a chance to speak again after that," said Hans Hammarström. He said the family had received reports while his son was missing and that the kidnappers had been in touch with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The National Bureau of Investigation, which is responsible for handling kidnaping cases, was short-spoken.

"They are safe. I can't say more about this case," press secretary Jessica Fremnell told news agency TT. However, she did add that Swedish police, in collaboration with other authorities, have worked intensively to free the two Swedes.

The reporters were captured in Syria on November 23rd last year as they were leaving the village of Ma'loula close to the Lebanese border. They were on a freelance assignment. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still not clear who the kidnappers were, but Aftonbladet reported that the journalists were kept in the basements of two different houses and were treated badly.

"We received little to eat and were only allowed to go to the toilet once a day," said Hammarström, who has lost a lot of weight. The journalists' attempt to escape on the second day in capitivity failed.

Falkehed is a freelance journalist who has written for newspapers such as Dagens Nyheter and Hammarström is a photographer who received the Journalist of the Year award for a feature about the war in Syria.

Syria has turned into one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in. Since the war broke out there, over 110 journalists have been killed in Syria and there were around 50 kidnapping cases in 2013, according to Reporters Without Borders.

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