Investigative journalists around the world pursue the truth. Their mission is uncovering and objectively relaying harsh realities of which we wouldn’t otherwise be aware – regardless of how painstaking the process may be. Whether securing a single quote from an important source or uncovering the murder of civilians during a peaceful protest, a journalist’s work has the power to change the course of history. They’re masters of the art of objective writing and informative storytelling, and they must typically immerse themselves in the very story they’re determined to tell.
For many journalists working around the world today, the road to truth is a treacherous one. In regions such as the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe, political upheaval, war, and death ravage nations – and journalists put themselves in the eye of the storm, learning, understanding, and sharing the story of these nations, their governments and their people. For some, the task can last for decades. Others, tragically, never return to their home countries.
In their brave search for truth, many innocent journalists are targeted by criminal and terrorist groups – they are held captive, often for a financial ransom or to send a political message to the journalists’ home countries. Many are released from the grips of their captors, while others are brutally murdered to the horror of the outside world.
The following are ten influential international journalists from past and present who have been kidnapped – some released, some murdered in their tireless search for knowledge, understanding, and change.
10. Raad Mohammed Al-Azzawi
Raad Mohammed Al-Azzawai is among dozens of international journalists who have been kidnapped in parts of the Middle East. Cameraman Al-Azzawai was taken in Samarra north of Baghdad on September 7th this year. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is believed to be responsible for this kidnapping. According to Reporters Without Borders, ISIS threatened to behead Al-Azzawai if he refused to work for them. Al-Azzawai risked his life, as did other journalists, by refusing to succumb to the militants’ threats. ISIS is continually targeting news professionals in acts of terror, aiming for these heinous crimes to be witnessed by the world at large. Al-Azzawai was still being held captive by the group as of the last update on the situation, on September 11th.
9. Anton Skiba
Eastern Europe is also undergoing tremendous political strife and civil war, especially in regions near Russia such as Georgia and the Ukraine. In July 2014, at least two journalists went missing in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists. Anton Skiba is one of those journalists. On July 22nd, armed separatists stormed the Donbass Palace hotel and captured Skiba, a local freelancer for a CNN television crew. Before the separatists captured him, they made allegations that he was a terrorist and a promoter on social media websites of the death of pro-Russian separatists. Skiba was released around July 26th.
8. Bunyamin Aygun
One triumphant story of freedom is of Turkish journalist Bunyamin Aygen. He was kidnapped in Northern Syria by militants believed to be linked to the terrorist group al-Qaida. After two months of being held captive, Aygun was freed and returned to Turkey through the Cilvegözü border gate in January. “Every night, I had the same dream that I was being freed,” Augur said, “I cannot believe that I am free now. It feels like a dream.” Aygun was kidnapped after returning to Syria to complete “one last story.” It turned out to be the story of his lifetime.
7. Edouard Elias
Edouard Elias, a freelance photographer, was only 22-years old when he was kidnapped. Working for the French radio station Europe 1, Elias was taken in Syria along with a colleague, a driver, and a local guide. More than a month after his disappearance, his whereabouts were unknown, although the French government was actively negotiating his safe return from Syrian officials. Last April, Elias was freed at the Turkish border. Sadly, however, another journalist – also featured on this list – who was a captive with Elias remained in Syria.
6. Brian Keenan
The Lebanon hostage crisis of the late 80s and early 90s saw 96 foreign hostages held, at least eight of whom died. Brian Keenan was not a journalist at the time of his capture, but he went on to detail his experiences in an epic work of literature. He was an Irish writer and teacher who was working in Beirut, Lebanon in 1986 when he was captured and held hostage by the Islamic Jihad for four years.
Keenan recounted the arduous ordeal as filled with “darkness and despair” in a report for BBC news. He was held in a cockroach-infested cell and given one meal a day of mostly rice and vegetables. For the first two years he was given no books or newspapers to read, nor was there a TV to watch for news. The captors didn’t tell Kennan who they were or why he was being held. After an initial period of solitary confinement, Keenan was moved into captivity with journalist John McCarthy, who was working for the United Press International Television News: Both men were held, chained, by the wrists and ankles.
Keenan was released in 1990 and went on to write the critically acclaimed autobiographical novel An Evil Cradling detailing his experiences as a hostage.
5. Javier Espinosa
In September 2013, Javier Espinosa was kidnapped in Northern Syria with Ricardo Garcia Vilanova – Espinosa had previously been the victim of a kidnapping in 1992 in Sierra Leone. He was a special correspondent covering Syrian conflict for the news publication El Mundo when it was reported that he was being held captive by the notorious group ISIS. At the Tal Abyad checkpoint in Raqqa province, Espinosa had been bombarded by armed gunmen. Fortunately, after six months, Espinosa was freed and spared the tragic fate of other brave journalists on this list.
4. John McCarthy
John McCarthy was a British journalist for the United Press International Television News when he was kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1986. Shortly after the American bombing in Libya, McCarthy was captured on his way to an airport. Even with the aid of an armed guard, McCarthy was taken to a secret location and imprisoned for four years. During this time, his wife fought for his release through social campaigns back in Britain. According to Robert Burke, vice-president of WWTN, “a car blocked the road near the airport” and four gunmen forced McCarthy to cooperate. In 1991, McCarthy – who shared a cell with Irish hostage Brian Keenan – was finally released and began to rebuild his lost life.
3. James Foley and Steven Sotloff
Steven Sotloff was an American journalist working in Syria. In August 2013, Sotloff and his guide, Yosef Abobaker, were abducted by 15 masked men known to belong to the group ISIS, according to Abobaker. In September 2014 a video was released showing Sotloff kneeling in sand and dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, next to a masked man wielding a large knife. His murder followed the threats made by the group that as long as “missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.” According to his family, Scotloff travelled to the Middle East to ease the sufferings of Muslims. Scotloff was 31 years old.
James Foley was a fellow American journalist who was captured in Syria in 2012. After protracted efforts by the U.S. government to free Foley, his whereabouts were unknown. Then, in August 2014, Foley’s captors released a horrific video – apparently produced and led by ISIS – showing the journalist being executed in the same manner as Sotloff. These recent tragic executions have led to unrest in America, and have encouraged the U.S. government to re-examine their strategies in dealing with the terrorist group ISIS.
2. Amanda Lindhout
Amanda Lindhout is a Canadian freelance journalist who was kidnapped in Somalia in 2008. According to her memoir, A House in the Sky, Lindhout was abused and tortured by Islamic fundamentalists for 15 months. After a failed escape plan involving a pair of clippers trying to dig out metal bars from brick, Lindhout was told that she and another captive were going to be sold to another – more violent and brutal – group. But in fact, a $600,000 ransom had been paid and they were to be released. Lindhout was finally freed. She recovered in a Kenyan hospital and returned to Canada and her family.
1. David Haines
David Haines was a British journalist working in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid while covering the political unrest in the Islamic State. He was kidnapped in 2013 and his location was revealed in September through a graphic and horrific video, again released by ISIS. Haines was shown kneeling in the sand held captive by a masked man dressed in black. After issuing a statement that was evidently forced upon him by his captors, Haines was executed by beheading. Haines was 44 years old.