Sydney Morning Herald -- Sunday June 12 2005
French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi assistant have been freed after more than five months as hostages in Iraq, the French Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
"We are mad with joy," Aubenas's sister Sylvie told France-Info radio. She said that President Jacques Chirac told the family on Saturday that Aubenas had been released.
"She is in good health, both physically and mentally," the sister said.
Aubenas, a veteran reporter for the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, was heading home to France, the ministry said. It said she was expected to arrive at a Paris-area airport toward the end of the day.
The reporter's Iraqi assistant, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, stayed with his family in Iraq. The two had been missing since January 5.
They were last seen leaving Aubenas's hotel in the Iraqi capital.
In a brief statement, the Foreign Ministry did not provide details of their release or indicate who had been holding them.
The first and last public sign that Aubenas was alive came in a videotape - apparently recorded by her captors - that emerged on March 1. She looked pale and pleaded for help.
Last week, her editor said French authorities were making progress in the slow, painstaking process to free Aubenas and her guide.
Serge July, a co-founder and director of Liberation, said authorities had established "stable contact" with Aubenas's kidnappers through an intermediary.
"It is the end of a nightmare," said Liberation editorial director Antoine de Gaudemar.
"They are out, they are free. It is fantastic," he told France-Info. "It has finished well."
He, too, said that both Aubenas and her guide received a health check and were in good health.
He said he had no details on how she was released.