Two Spanish journalists have been abducted in Syria and held captive by an extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, El Mundo newspaper reported on Tuesday.
El Mundo correspondent Javier Espinosa and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were kidnapped on September 16 in Raqqa province, the Spanish daily said on its website.
The families of the journalists revealed at a news conference Tuesday that Espinosa and Vilanova have been missing for three months.
The reporters were seized at a checkpoint near the Turkish border as they tried to exit Syria at the end of a two-week reporting mission.
They were captured along with four members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel opposition group battling President Bashar al-Assad.
The journalists were supposed to be protected by the FSA, the newspaper said. Four more Syrians were seized along with the Spanish reporters, but were released 12 days later.
The newspaper identified the captors as members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (abbreviated as ISIL or ISIS), a jihadist faction in Syria.
“After the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of its first resolution on the safety of journalists on 26 November, the international community must quickly intervene to prevent ISIS from extending its hold over all the so-called ‘liberated’ areas in northern Syria,” media-rights campaign group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Tuesday.
“Urgent action is needed to end this nightmare for the Syrian population in general and news providers in particular, who are being targeted by both the regular army and armed groups that support al-Qaeda.”
Both Espinosa and Garcia have been on a mission to cover the uprising against the Assad regime that began in March 2011.
Espinosa, 49, has been based in Beirut as El Mundo’s Middle East correspondent since 2002, a press release from Reporters Without Borders said.
He was previously the newspaper’s South Africa correspondent, its Mexico City-based Latin America correspondent (1995 to 1999) and its Rabat-based Africa correspondent (1999 to 2002).
Espinosa was one of four journalists who in early 2012 escaped from Baba Amr, a neighborhood of Homs that was shelled for 26 consecutive days before Syrian forces began an assault.
After his escape Espinosa told CNN of the dire humanitarian crisis in Homs, given the short food, water and medical supplies. “They had nothing. They didn't receive (anything) at all,” he said of Baba Amr at the time.
Garcia Vilanova has worked for media such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and Agence France-Presse.
“Espinosa and Vilanova share the spirit of sacrifice necessary to cover conflicts, where difficulties and sometimes suffering are a challenge,” El Mundo wrote on Tuesday.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Soazig Dollet, a spokesperson for the organization, told Al Arabiya News that all press freedom organizations, along with El Mundo, are working for their release.
Dollet said the group tries to provide more protection for journalists in Syria.
“In Syria, we provide the same assistance like other places, we provide insurance and specific equipment as well as some training but of course it’s not enough,” she said.
“One of our main works is to do advocacy, but we have little leverage on ISIL and similar groups,” Dollet added.
“We all fight for the release of journalists until the last minute and for the release of all journalists kidnapped or missing in Syria,” she said.SHOW MORE