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Swedish hostages held by Syrian jihadists return home

By AFP   |   26 April 2015   |   7:00 pm  

Islamic StateTwo Swedish men held hostage by Syrian jihadists have been reunited with their families in Sweden, the country’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.

The hostages, named in the Swedish media as Thomas Olsson, 50, and Martin Reen, 33, were freed with the help of Palestinian and Jordanian authorities, said the ministry.

According to the Christian newspaper Dagen, the men were taken hostage in November 2013 when they crossed the border into Syria while doing missionary work in Jordan.

“We are doing well under the circumstances and want to thank everyone who was involved in setting us free. Now we want to be with our families and meet our children,” Olsson told Swedish news agency TT, adding that they needed peace and quiet and would not answer questions about their ordeal.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem on Saturday thanked the Palestinians and Jordan for helping secure the men’s release.

“A special thanks to Palestine and president (Mahmud) Abbas personally who engaged in a decisive way, as well as to the Jordanian authorities,” she said in a statement.

She said Swedish police were also involved in the hostage negotiations.

It was unclear where the men were held.

A senior Palestinian intelligence official in Ramallah said the operation to free the hostages was launched after Abbas in February visited Stockholm, which had just recognised the state of Palestine.

Palestinian intelligence services then established “direct contact with the armed group that held them and obtained proof they were alive” in early April, the official said.

The operation to free the two was launched “on the evening of April 23, in full coordination with Jordanian intelligence”.

Palestinian special forces then entered Syria from Jordan, and eventually convinced the kidnappers from Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, to release the hostages who were dropped off at an agreed meeting point on Friday.

A Swedish foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on details of the case but said “no ransom was paid”.

The Palestinian ambassador to Sweden, Hala Husni Fariz, had also told TT that the men had been kidnapped by Al-Nusra Front, and held close to the Jordanian border.

She added that Palestinian security services had helped negotiate their release for more than two months.

The leader of a pentecostal church in northern Sweden told the paper that the men were members of the congregation.

An official branch of Al-Qaeda since April 2013, the Al-Nusra Front dominates a swathe of northwest Syria.

As well as fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it has clashed with Western-backed rebels and its jihadist rival the Islamic State group.



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