ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish cameraman who went missing while reporting from Syria appeared on Monday in an interview with a pro-government Syrian television channel and said he had been seized by Syrian soldiers in the northern city of Aleppo.
In the video from al-Ikhbariya news channel, which was broadcast by Turkish media on Monday, Cuneyt Unal seems to be in good health although he looks exhausted and nervous, with dark marks under both eyes, apparently bruising.
Unal, a journalist of 17 years who currently works for the U.S.-funded al-Hurra television channel, describes his journey from the Turkish border to Aleppo with rebels who are fighting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“All the people with me had weapons in their hands. In the armed group there are Chechen, Libyan, Qatari and Saudi armed groups,” Unal said in the video.
They joined up with other rebel groups in Aleppo but he was captured by government troops after a clash, he said.
“Later, together with them, they had a gunfight on Maidan street with Syrian soldiers and gendarmes (paramilitary forces) and they seized me and brought me here away from this armed group,” Unal said.
Unal crossed into Syria on August 20 with his Jordanian colleague Bashar Fahmi and two Japanese journalists working for Japanese media, one of whom, Mika Yamamoto, was killed in Aleppo a day later pro-Assad militiamen.
Unal’s wife said she expected him to return home safely but feared his release would take some time.
“It was a huge relief to see him alive on the video, and the bruises were not as bad as I expected they would be, but apparently his mood is crushed,” Nuran Unal told Reuters in the couple’s Istanbul flat.
Fahmi, who has also not been heard from since last week and was reportedly wounded in Syria, does not appear in the video. Unal does not mention his correspondent colleague during the one-and-a-half minute interview.
The video clip begins with a still photograph of a smiling Unal holding a rocket-propelled-grenade in his left hand and wearing a traditional red and white Arab scarf around his neck.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the picture or the date of when the interview took place. A microphone with al-Ikhbariya’s logo can be seen in front of Unal being held by the interviewer, who is out of shot.
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara shortly after the video was aired, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rebuffed suggestions Unal had gone to Syria to join the rebels and said the Syrian government was responsible for his safety.
“He was forced to make a statement that was dictated to him. Is there a possibility Cuneyt Unal, who went to the region to conduct journalism, has turned into a militant? We do not take the claims seriously in any form,” Davutoglu said.
Unal’s capture and the killings of at least 17 journalists in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 underscores the hostile environment in which reporters operate to cover the Syrian conflict.
Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Angus MacSwan