Driver split from French hostages in September

17th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 17 (AFP) - The Syrian driver captured with two French reporters in Iraq three months ago was separated from the journalists in September, and himself suddenly set free into the streets of Fallujah during the US-led assault on the city, the head of a media watchdog group said Wednesday.

PARIS, Nov 17 (AFP) - The Syrian driver captured with two French reporters in Iraq three months ago was separated from the journalists in September, and himself suddenly set free into the streets of Fallujah during the US-led assault on the city, the head of a media watchdog group said Wednesday.

Mohammed al-Jundi, who was picked up by US forces in Fallujah at the end of last week, was released "penniless, into the street" and is now "on his way" or already at the French embassy in Iraq, said Robert Menard, head of the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

France on Tuesday asked the United States to give it access "as soon as possible" to the freed Syrian driver, hoping he can provide new clues about the fate of Christian Chesnot, 37, of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot, 41, of Le Figaro.

The three were abducted on August 20 by a group south of Baghdad calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, believed to be mainly based in Fallujah.

Menard, who spoke on French radio, said the Syrian driver told his brother-in-law, who lives in Paris, that he was held with the two French reporters for only two weeks.

The driver also said he had been let go in the street, and immediately went to a friend's house to telephone his family abroad, according to Menard who did not elaborate.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Tuesday that Paris was "impatiently" waiting to have access to Al-Jundi.

Despite the news blackout on the whereabouts of the two journalists, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Sunday they were thought to be in a "fairly safe" zone in Iraq based on information from Jundi, adding this had "given us some confidence back".

In the latest hostage scare, British-Irish aid executive Margaret Hassan was feared dead on Wednesday.

A video received by Al-Jazeera showed a blindfolded woman being shot by her kidnappers, and although there was still no official confirmation of the victim's identity, her family and the British government both said Hassan had probably been killed by her captors.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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