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French hostages return home after nearly a year in captivity

media Four French journalists returned to France on Sunday after their captivity in Syria. Reuters

Four French journalists held hostage in Syria arrived on French soil on Sunday. President François Hollande called it “a day of joy for France”. The men were held for almost a year by a self-described jihadist group.

A plane carrying Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres landed at a military base outside of Paris, where family and colleagues awaited their arrival.

“It was a long haul, but we never lost hope,” said François to the media, after arriving in Villacoublay.

François, an experienced war reporter with Europe 1 radio, thanked French diplomats and secret services, who worked towards the hostages' release.

He also expressed his gratitude towards the public for their continued support, saying he was moved by the “degree of mobilisation [and] this outburst of solidarity, this generosity” by the French people.

Henin, who was working as a reporter for Le Point magazine when he was captured, expressed his joy at his release on his Facebook page: “FREE!!!” he wrote. “A huge thank you to everyone. I am very moved by your messages. Can’t wait to see you again. I am ecstatic to be able to rejoin my wonderful family.”

Despite spending nearly a year in captivity, the four men are in good health, President François Hollande said on Saturday. They will, however, undergo a series of medical checks.

The journalists were found in a no man’s land on the border between Turkey and Syria overnight Friday, where they had been blindfolded with their hands tied up.

The men were brought to a police outpost in Turkey, before being flown back to France.

Henin described the captors to France 24 television as “a group that claims to be a jihadist movement”, and said that he was transferred nearly a dozen times to different sites during captivity. In the hours before being dropped at the border, Henin said he and his fellow captives were fed more than usual.

“We thought, something’s going on,” he said. “And quite rightly, as we hardly had any time to eat before they came in the next minute to say, ‘let’s go, we’re going to the border.”

Fabien Namias, chief executive of Europe 1, said that a few days ago there was some indication that the men would be released but that everyone was wary of getting hopes up too high.

The journalists’ liberation comes just weeks after the release of two Spanish journalists, also held hostage in Syria.

An estimated 30 foreign journalists have been kidnapped in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, with many still missing.

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