Three Spanish journalists have been missing in Syria since July 12, the last time they were contactable, according to government sources in Madrid. The three men – reporters Ángel Sastre, Antonio Pampliega and José Manuel López – were in the Syrian city of Aleppo when contact was lost, diplomatic sources have confirmed.
The same government sources report that while they do not have any indications of a kidnapping incident, they fear that the men may have been abducted.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry is “aware of the situation,” according to sources from the ministry itself, which would confirm nothing further than the fact that they are “working on it.”
The three journalists, who were working as freelancers, had entered Syria via Turkey two days before contact was lost.
The justice minister, Rafael Catalá, told news agency Servimedia that the government would act “with all of the means” at its disposal, and “all of the intelligence resources” of the state to free the journalists should a kidnapping be confirmed. “First we need to establish what has happened,” he continued.
The area where the men disappeared has been the scene of intense fighting in recent days. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory reported on Friday that at least 11 people died in bombing by the Syrian regime in the north of the province, while on Monday a US-led coalition launched air attacks against positions held by Islamic State (ISIS).
Given the chaotic situation in the area, with communication difficult, government sources were unwilling to confirm a kidnapping, but they did admit there was evidence to suggest the men had been “detained.”
The disappearance of the journalists had been kept quiet in the media, with the aim of facilitating a potential negotiation, but the news was released on Tuesday by Spanish daily Abc. “The more publicity given to the case, the higher the price that their captors will demand,” one expert has warned.
The families of the men have released a statement in which they asked for “patience, respect and discretion.”
Ángel Sastre has covered earthquakes, coup d’état and war zones. He regularly works with Spanish TV network Cuatro, radio station Onda Cero and daily La Razón. In October 2013, he spent a month reporting from Aleppo, together with reporter Antonio Pampliega and photojournalist José Manuel López.
José Manuel López has spent 11 years working as a photographer, and has been a freelancer in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Kosovo and Iran since 2010.
Around 40 journalists have been kidnapped or detained so far during the conflict in Syria.
Translation by Simon Hunter.