WASHINGTON — The families of two French journalists announced Wednesday that they have disappeared in Raqqa, Syria, ending a media blackout on the case that has been in place since June 22.
In their statement, the families of reporter Nicolas Henin and photographer Pierre Torres refer to the men as hostages, but don't say who they suspect of holding them or where they are being held. The statement said that the French government had provided proof that they were still alive in August, but that there has been no word about their situation since.
"We know only that Nicolas and Pierre are alive," the statement said. "A 'proof of life' was communicated to the families by French authorities in August. But nothing was indicated about their whereabouts or conditions of detention."
There's no known ransom demand, the families said.
The families said they stayed silent about the abduction because they hoped for a quick conclusion to the matter. But after more than 100 days without movement in the case, they felt it was important that the two journalists know that their families and loved ones were "mobilized to quickly win their freedom."
More than a dozen Westerners are now missing inside Syria, many of them abducted in recent weeks apparently by al Qaida-affiliated fighters in northern Syria. Most of the cases, however, have not been made public out of hope that a lack of publicity will speed their release. The downside of that strategy, however, is the extent of the problem is not well publicized, and some people entering the country surreptitiously from Turkey, along roads that only months ago were considered safe, may not realize the risk.
The situation has gotten so dangerous that Peter Bouckaert, the director of emergencies for Human Rights Watch and the administrator of a social media forum for journalists covering Syria, last month warned all foreign reporters to stay out of northern Syria.
Austin Tice, a McClatchy contributor who was last heard from Aug. 13, 2012, remains missing, though he disappeared from Daraya south of Damascus and may be in government custody.
The rest, however, have gone missing primarily in northern Syria, with the most recent cases, such as Henin's and Torres's, taking place near Raqqa, the largest city to have fallen to rebels battling the government of President Bashar Assad. The city is under the control of al Qaida-affiliated Islamists who expelled more moderate rebels two months ago.
Both Henin and Torres had been in Syria previously, according to their families' statement. Henin, 37, who's been the Africa and Middle East bureau chief of Solas Films for the past seven years and a contributor to Radio France and Radio Canada's French-language broadcast, was making his fifth visit to Syria since 2011, when the violence there began, the family said. Torres, 29 and a contributor to AFP and other publications, was making his second trip.
The abduction of two other French journalists, Didier François and Edouard Elias, also has been made public. They disappeared June 6.