RAS AJDIR, Tunisia – Four New York Times journalists who were held captive in Libya for six days were freed Monday by authorities and crossed the border into Tunisia, the newspaper said.
Reporter Anthony Shadid, photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario and videographer Stephen Farrell left Libya at the dusty border crossing into Tunisia that has been used by tens of thousands of people fleeing violence.
"We're overjoyed to report that our four journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday morning are free and have arrived safely in Tunisia," New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote in a message to staff.
Turkey, acting on a U.S. request, played the pivotal role in getting the journalists freed and transferred to Tunisia, said Namik Tan, Turkey's ambassador to the United States.
Aistrikes on Libya, which were launched on Saturday, delayed a release by a day, Tan said.
Turkey's ambassador in Tripoli, Levent Sahinkaya, held talks with Libyan intelligence agencies and reached an agreement for a handover on Sunday, according to Tan. But when Sahinkaya went to pick them up, he was told to come next morning, because of the bombing, he said.
On Monday morning, Sahinkaya picked up the journalists and took them to Turkey's embassy, where they were fed and given phones to call home before an embassy officer accompanied them on the drive to the Tunisian border, escorted by a Libyan police vehicle, according to Tan's account.
Keller said the paper had received confirmation from Libyan officials on Thursday that the four were in custody but would soon be freed. They were allowed to speak with relatives Thursday night, Keller wrote.
Keller's note said the Turkish government played a key role in "overseeing the release" of its journalists and ensuring they reached Tunisia and "we are particularly indebted." In a separate statement, the Times also thanked the British and U.S. governments as well as members of the Libyan government who helped secure the journalists' release.
Libyan authorities said the journalists were captured last week by forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Ajdabiya during fighting in the eastern part of the country. The New York Times reported that the four had entered the rebel-controlled area from Egypt without visas, as have many Western journalists.
Shadid's father, Buddy Albert Shadid, said in a telephone interview from Oklahoma City that he spoke with his son at 6 a.m. Monday and with Shadid's wife in Beirut about 40 minutes later.
"It's been draining. I was a nervous wreck. Everything was complicated with the no fly zone," Shadid said, referring to the coalition force mounted as of Saturday to protect Libyans from strikes by Gadhafi's forces.
"The whole family is overjoyed and thrilled and appreciate all the support and love that the whole country has shown," Shadid father said, adding that his son would fly to Beirut to be reunited with his wife, also a New York Times journalist.
He said his son was not at liberty to discuss details of his capture.
Hicks' father, Portis Hicks of Manhattan, said he, too, was "delighted."
"The story is Tyler's to tell and the others to tell. I don't know all about what they went through during the period they were in custody. The best part of the story is that they're free," he said by telephone.
Portis Hicks said he had spoken to his son around 6 a.m. and "he sounded fine. He said he was OK." Hicks said he was grateful to the Turkish government.
Keller urged New York Times journalists to exercise caution: "This is a reminder that real, boots-on-the-ground journalism is hard and sometimes dangerous work."
It was the second time that Farrell had been held captive. In 2009, he was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and was rescued by British commandos.
Shadid worked previously for The Associated Press, Washington Post and Boston Globe. He won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 and 2010 for his coverage of Iraq.
Hicks, a former photographer for The Wilmington Star-News in North Carolina and the Troy Daily News in Ohio, was named Newspaper Photographer of the Year in 2007 by Pictures of the Year International and won an Infinity award from the International Center of Photography in 2001.
Addario also has worked for National Geographic and Time magazine and was part of The New York Times team that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. She won a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the Genius Grant, in 2009.
Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, has said that two of its journalists and a photographer traveling with them went missing Saturday while working near the eastern city of Tobruk, not far from the border with Egypt. The AFP journalists are reporter Dave Clark and photographer Roberto Schmidt. They were accompanied by a photographer for Getty Images, Joe Raedle, who is also missing.
Several foreign journalists have been arrested by Libyan authorities during the uprising that began Feb. 15. An Al-Jazeera cameraman and a Libyan journalist have been killed.
Desmond Butler contributed from Washington. Ula Ilnytzky contributed from New York City.