French Reporter, Aide Released in Iraq

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A French journalist and her Iraqi assistant have rejoined their families after five months in captivity in Iraq. They were released by their kidnappers Saturday after what the French ambassador called a dangerous mission.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

In the last year, some four dozen foreigners taken hostage in Iraq are believed to have been killed. Another 44 are still being held, including citizens of the US, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Jordan, Egypt and a number of other countries. There's no official count on the number of Iraqis held hostage. Freeing these contractors, aid workers and others remains a major concern for governments around the world, so it was big news today when a French reporter and her Iraqi translator finally went home. They'd been held hostage for five months and were freed this weekend. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

In France, there is a national celebration for the release of Florence Aubenas, with public pronouncements by French politicians. The celebration for the return of her Iraqi translator, Hussein al-Saadi, was centered in a Baghdad neighborhood. French Embassy armored cars sped to his house this afternoon.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

AMOS: The Iraqi, who'd been held for five months, emerged from behind the car's tinted windows and collapsed in the arms of his family.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

AMOS: At first, al-Saadi's frightened young son Mohammed(ph) didn't recognize his thinner and tired-looking father.

(Soundbite of crowd noise; child crying)

AMOS: The neighbors pelted him with sweets, an Iraqi tradition. It was an emotional reunion. Al-Saadi told his wife there wasn't an hour during his long captivity that he didn't think of her and the children.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

AMOS: As the family and relatives crowded into the house, it took a while for al-Saadi to stop crying as his wife, children and relatives jostled to touch and kiss his face, a way to assure themselves that he was finally home. He had made it out alive.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Al-Saadi was lucky. That is a proper word for anyone held captive for five months in Iraq. The French government negotiated his release. Many more Iraqis than foreigners are kidnapped every day. The Iraqi government cannot stop these kidnappers, who often kill their hostages.

Aubenas and al-Saadi were abducted in January after leaving a Baghdad hotel. Two months later, a video appeared with the French journalist pleading for her life. It was revealed today that she'd been held in the same location as three Romanian journalists who were released last month. The plight of the French journalist and her Iraqi assistant had become a national cause in France, where large posters of the two appeared on government buildings, the equivalent of American yellow ribbons. The French-speaking Iraqi had become as well-known as the woman who depended on his translations. The long ordeal is now over for them. More than 40 foreigners are still hostages, including three Americans. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Baghdad.

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