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Report: 2 Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria arrive home

By Brian Walker and Elwyn Lopez, CNN
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 0904 GMT (1704 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The two journalists embrace family and friends during a joyous reunion in Madrid
  • The men were abducted in September
  • Their captors are believed to be linked to an al Qaeda-backed group
  • El Mundo reports their release but doesn't go into detail about how they were freed

(CNN) -- Two Spanish journalists held more than six months in Syria arrived home Sunday, Spain's El Mundo newspaper reported.

El Mundo staff correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova embraced family and friends during a joyous reunion on the tarmac of the Torrejon de Ardoz military airport in Madrid.

"We want to thank everyone who has worried about us and who has made it possible for us to return home, and as you can see, we are perfectly well," Espinosa told those gathered at the airport.

They were later met with a standing ovation and tears by colleagues in the El Mundo newsroom, according to the newspaper. "Thank you so much," Espinosa said. "I'm sorry for what we have made you go through."

El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa, right, and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova arrive home Sunday.
El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa, right, and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova arrive home Sunday.

El Mundo reported early Sunday that the men had been handed over to authorities in Turkey, and showed a picture of them together in apparent good health and spirits at the airport in Beirut. It did not go into detail about how they were freed.

The two journalists were kidnapped in September.

Garcia was traveling with Espinosa but not on assignment for El Mundo.

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Espinosa, 49, and Garcia, 42, have made numerous trips to war-torn Syria, often together, and they organized their most recent visit together, foreign editor Ana Alonso earlier told CNN. Garcia has also worked with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on a number of stories about Syria.

Espinosa was previously kidnapped while covering a conflict in Sierra Leone, and Garcia was kidnapped in 2012 in Syria for about 12 days, said Gervasio Sanchez, a Spanish veteran war photographer who knows both men.

The newspaper reported in December the men were kidnapped at the Tal Abyad checkpoint in Raqqa province, close to the Turkish border, as they prepared to leave Syria after two weeks of coverage.

At the time, the paper said the journalists' captors were reported to be members of a group linked to the al Qaeda-backed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and had not revealed demands to free the two.

Initially, the captors said they wanted to ensure the two journalists were not spies, El Mundo said.

The journalists were traveling with four fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who were also kidnapped, but released 12 days later. The fighters were supposed to have provided protection to the Spaniards, the newspaper reported.

In 2012, Espinosa was in the same makeshift press center in Baba Amr, Homs province, where correspondent Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed.

READ: 2 Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria, newspaper says

CNN's Al Goodman contributed to this report from Madrid.

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