FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) – A Syrian man believed to have been captured along with two French journalists by militants in August was found in Fallujah, Marine officials said Friday.

The man, discovered late Thursday in handcuffs in an undisclosed location in the city, told military officials he had been separated from the journalists about a month ago, Capt. Ed Bitanga said.

French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot and their Syrian driver, Mohammed al-Joundi, disappeared Aug. 20 on a trip to the holy city of Najaf.

A militant group calling itself “the Islamic Army in Iraq” claimed to hold the men and demanded that France revoke a new law banning Islamic head scarves from state schools.

The former hostage told officials the three had been ambushed by men in two cars as they were heading to report on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

At one point, the man was blindfolded and interrogated by his captors in a room where he saw a black flag with crossed swords, Bitanga said.

The man also said that he saw several other hostages being held, including two Czech nationals – one of whom was injured. He did not specify how many others he saw.

The hostage said he doesn’t know what happened to the two Frenchmen after he was separated from them, Bitanga said.

The French government has made extensive efforts to obtain the release of Chesnot, 37, with Radio France Internationale, and Malbrunot, 41 with the daily Le Figaro.

On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he had “reassuring” news about the health of two French hostages in Iraq, saying he believed they were being held in the Sunni Triangle that runs north and west from Baghdad, where the insurgency is strongest. The area includes Fallujah.

The hostage told the military he was held until early this week, when his kidnappers released him a day before the invasion and told him to swim across the Euphrates River to escape. The hostage told military officials he could not swim so he stayed in the location until Marines found him.


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