Syria: British Journalist John Cantlie Kidnapped With Jeroen Oerlemans Is Released By Free Syrian Army

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SYRIA UPRINGS
A Syria rebel army fighter cowers in Idlib, northern Syria. | AP

A Dutch and British photojournalist who were kidnapped in Syria by Islamist militants have been freed by members of the Free Syrian Army after a harrowing ordeal.

John Cantlie, a British photojournalist who has worked for The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph, as well as the BBC, was held hostage alongside Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans. The two men are recovering in Turkey after suffering gunshot wounds during their ordeal.

Oerlemans has been the first to describe their experience.

Speaking to Dutch media on Friday, Oerlemans said their captors were not Syrians, but from Britain, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Estimating that between 30 to 100 held them captive, Oerlemans said some of the gang that held them had "Birmingham accents", he told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblat.

At least one had a "heavy south London accent" reported the Sunday Telegraph, quoting a source close to the incident.

Oerlemans described the men as "foreign jihadists,” who captured the men "almost immediately" after they crossed the border from Turkey at Bab al-Hawa, on 19 July.

"In no time we had a circle of men around us with Kalashnikovs," Oerlemans told Business News Radio, according to Associated Press.

The journalists were accused of working for the CIA, before their captors decided to hold them for ransom. Oerlemans' account supports reports that Islamist extremists are infiltrating the uprising in Syria.

“All day we were spoken to about the Koran and how they would bring Shariah law to Syria. I don’t think they were Al Qaeda; they seemed too amateurish for that," Oerlemnas told The New York Times.

The two were injured after trying to run from the camp. Oerlemnas was shot in the foot and thigh while Cantile was shot in the arm. Their wounds were bandaged but they were kept blindfolded and handcuffed after that, he told Business News Radio.

"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.

Members of the FSA stormed the camp on Friday morning, and "started dressing down everyone."

They asked "why the hell we were being kept there, how long we had been kept there, why we were being treated in this way", he told the radio station.

Oerlemans then recounted how they were driven out of the camp whilst the FSA were shooting in the air "like gangsters".

"Where the FSA seems to be fighting for democracy, these foreign fighters don't want anything more than imposing sharia on Syria. Syrians are pretty moderate Muslims in general, but they want to put them under the boot of sharia law," he added.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement:

“We are delighted that John Cantile and Jerome Orlemans are safe and well. Throughout the time they were reported missing we worked tirelessly to establish their whereabouts and provide consular support to their families.

"We continue to advise all British nationals, including journalists, against any travel to Syria. These recent events underline the dangers they face.”

Fierce fighting between the rebel army and government forces continued on Sunday as the battle for Syria's largest city, Aleppo raged.

Shelling and gunfire continued, though the rebels claim to have repelled the government's army from seizing the city, which is the country's economic hub.

Syrian National Council (SNC) leader Abdulbaset Sayda called for arms at a news conference in Abu Dhabi, asking international allies for weapons that "would stop tanks and jet fighters," according to AFP.

Meanwhile civilians who remain in Aleppo are facing electricity shortages and food is scarce. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 29 people were killed in Aleppo on Saturday. One hundred and sixty-eight people were killed across Syria, according to the unverified figures.