AMSTERDAM: Islamic militants held two Western photojournalists in Syria captive for a week before they were rescued by Syrian rebels, one of the men said Friday.
Jeroen Oerlemans, a prominent Dutch photographer, told Business News Radio of the Netherlands that he was not sure which group held him and John Cantlie of Britain, but said he was certain they had not been Syrian.
“They all claimed they came from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and Chechnya, and they said there was some vague ‘emir’ at the head of the group,” he said in an interview from Turkey, where the men are recuperating. Oerlemans is also recovering from two gunshot wounds suffered during an escape attempt.
His account would seem to add weight to reports that foreign Islamic fighters have entered Syria to support the rebel side.
The Associated Press could not reach the men who are expected to return home within days.
Oerlemans told Business News Radio that he and Cantlie entered Syria on July 19, but were captured almost immediately.
“You go with a donkey caravan over the border,” he said. “It went left, we went right and walked into a camp of 20 tents and in no time we had a circle of men around us with Kalashnikovs and we were taken captive.”
The militants accused the men of working for the CIA and took their equipment and documents, he said.
Oerlemans said it soon became clear that their captors planned to seek ransom, so the photographers tried to escape. They were quickly intercepted and Oerlemans was shot in the foot and thigh, he said. His captors bandaged his wounds but kept the two men handcuffed and blindfolded after that, he said.
“I was wounded, but the bullets missed all the vital parts, and I’m frisky as a puppy and enormously happy that I’ve survived it all, that it ended well,” he said.
They were told Friday morning they would be moved to another location when a group of Syrian rebels stormed the tent and put the photographers in trucks.
Oerlemans said he only realized he had been rescued after the men began to ask him whether he was OK, describing his captivity as “outrageous.”
Uri Rosenthal, the Netherlands’ foreign minister, said diplomats were traveling to Oerlemans to help him get home. The British Foreign Office cited privacy concerns in not commenting on Cantlie.
Oerlemans is well known in the Netherlands, having won two national photography awards.
Cantlie’s LinkedIn page describes him as a freelance journalist and photographer with 20 years’ experience in “hostile environment reportage.” It says his clients have included British newspapers The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sun; GQ and FHM magazines, and the BBC.