Kidnapped U.S. journalist missing in Syria for six weeks

BEIRUT Wed Jan 2, 2013 9:49pm IST

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - An American journalist is missing after being kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in northwest Syria six weeks ago, his family said on Wednesday.

The family of freelance journalist James Foley, 39, launched a public campaign to bring him home after requesting a news blackout since Foley was taken on 22 November in Idlib province.

According to GlobalPost, a news website he had previously reported for, Foley had been driving towards the Syrian border with Turkey when he was intercepted by a car. He was forced out of his vehicle by two armed men and has not been seen or heard from since, the website said.

No group has publicly claimed responsibility. Several journalists have been abducted in Syria during the 21-month-old uprising. Last year the country was by far the most dangerous for journalists with 28 killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog.

Rebel groups fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad have detained journalists suspected of supporting the government. Pro-Assad militia have also seized journalists, including an NBC News team who were held for five days in December.

Foley is an experienced foreign correspondent who has reported from Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. In April 2011, he was captured in eastern Libya by government forces and held for 44 days before being released. He later returned to the country to cover Muammar Gaddafi's fall.

The Syrian government tightly restricts media access. Foley entered the country through rebel-held areas.

French news agency Agence France-Presse, which also used Foley's work, quoted its chairman Emmanuel Hoog as saying it was striving to secure his freedom.

"He is a professional journalist who is absolutely neutral in this conflict," Hoog said. "His kidnappers, whoever they may be, should free him immediately."

(Reporting by Sara Elizabeth Williams; Editing by Peter Graff and Alistair Lyon)

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