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June 26, 2017

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Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria freed

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

Veteran 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, less than 24 hours after calling from Turkey to say they were out of captivity and safe.

As Espinosa walked down the steps from the plane, his young son raced across the tarmac and threw his arms around his father in a bear hug. Other family members, newspaper representatives and government officials also were on hand to greet them, according to video of their arrival posted to El Mundo's website.

Before gaining their freedom, Espinosa and Garcia Vilanova were on a long list of journalists who have been kidnapped while covering the conflict in Syria, which according to press advocacy groups has become the most dangerous country in the world for reporters.

Media rights groups say nearly 30 reporters have been killed there since the conflict began in March 2011. With the two Spanish journalists now free, there are at least nine more foreign correspondents still missing in Syria as well as 10 Syrian reporters.

At a hastily convened news conference Sunday at El Mundo newspaper's Madrid headquarters, Espinosa and Garcia Vilanova received a standing ovation. They thanked those present for their support, but said they could not provide details of their captivity or how they won their freedom, saying the matter was "out of our hands."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said the government uses "maximum discretion" when dealing with kidnapped journalists, and would not comment on whether a ransom was negotiated. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

For friends and family, word of the journalists' freedom was reason to rejoice after months of stress. Monica Garcia Prieto, Espinosa's partner, put it simply in a succinct Tweet: "Pure happiness."

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