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Freed Turkish Journalists Feared They Would Die In Syria

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ADEM OZKOSE HAMIT COSKUN
AP


ISTANBUL, May 13 (Reuters) - Two Turkish journalists freed after two months' captivity in Syria told on Sunday how they were held in a tiny, underground cell by gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad with guns pointed at their heads, fearing they would be killed.

Reporter Adem Ozkose and cameraman Hamit Coskun thanked Iran and Turkish officials for securing their release.

Ozkose, a reporter with Milat, a small Islamic-leaning newspaper, said neither were tortured, but: "Being in a tiny cell for days on your own, a gun being pointed at your head is torture anyway. For the first 10-11 days after being kidnapped we feared death constantly."

The pair arrived in Istanbul on Sunday, having been taken to Tehran after their release on Saturday. Iranian officials had helped persuade their captors to let them go, demonstrating Tehran's influence with its ally Syria.

Assad lost Turkey's friendship when he ignored Ankara's calls to halt a crackdown on pro-democracy protests that began 14 months ago. Iran and Syria, both isolated by the West, have stuck by each other.

"We had difficult days, for example when I was taken to solitary confinement I didn't know if Adem was alive.  didn't eat for six days, then I heard Adem reading the Koran in a loud voice and I started eating then," Coskun told a news conference.

The pair were captured days after crossing the border into the northwest Syrian province of Idlib to report as Assad's forces launched an offensive in the region.

"Assad supporters blocked roads and kidnapped people, we were stuck in a group of 60-70 shabbiha soldiers," Ozkose said, referring to the pro-Assad militia.

"They blindfolded and handcuffed us ... and took us to a place underground. The dimensions of the cell we stayed in was 1 metre by 2 metres. We slept on the floor, they had given us blankets," Ozkose said.

Ozkose said he drew strength from reading the Koran and recounted how, shortly after he had read the final page, Bulent Yildrim, chairman of the IHH, a Turkish Islamic relief agency, appeared to help negotiate their release.

" finished reading it and 15 minutes after I had finished the last page, Bulent Yildirim arrived, an interesting coincidence for me," Ozkose said. "The Koran verses surrounded me with something like a protective shield."

A week later they were freed, Ozkose said. (Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Janet Lawrence)