Last updated: 8 January, 2014

Two Swedish journalists missing in Syria freed

Two Swedish journalists have been released after being held for six weeks in Syria by an unidentified armed group, Swedish foreign ministry officials said Wednesday.

“The two journalists have been freed,” Sweden’s ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, Niklas Kebbon, told AFP.

The foreign ministry confirmed its staff were taking care of the two, who were reported to be safe in Beirut.

Photographer Niclas Hammarstroem and reporter Magnus Falkehed, both 45, were kidnapped on November 25 as they were leaving Syria after an assignment covering the war there for Swedish newspapers and an independent news agency.

Falkehed was freed on Wednesday, three days after Hammarstroem was released, according to a telephone interview Hammarstroem gave to Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

He said their captivity was harrowing.

“The worst was the uncertainty,” Hammarstroem said. “It’s a huge relief to finally be free.”

Falkehed told the daily Dagens Nyheter: “I feel good but a little exhausted.”

Details of their release were not given, and little was revealed of their captors.

Hammarstroem said he and Falkehed were kept mostly separate in dark cellars, with little food and access to a toilet just once per day.

An escape bid early on ended with both being recaptured — and with Hammarstroem being shot in the left leg. After that, they were blindfolded.

The captors brought in a doctor to treat the photographer’s wound.

“I thought constantly of my family in Sweden,” said Hammarstroem, who added that he had lost a lot of weight.

The International Committee for the Red Cross on Wednesday transported Falkehed from the Lebanese border to Beirut, where he was handed over to the Swedish ambassador, ICRC spokeswoman Claire Kaplun told AFP.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt welcomed the journalists’ release on Twitter.

“Great relief that the two Swedish journalists are out of Syria. But unfortunately there are still others held against their will,” he wrote.

Dozens of journalists have gone missing in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, with both regime supporters and opponents accused of abductions.

Syria is the deadliest place in the world for journalists, according to media watchdogs.

Reporters Without Borders says at least 27 journalists have been killed in the country since the conflict began.