Published January 14, 2015
A Syrian man found handcuffed in a house in Fallujah is the driver who was taken hostage with two French journalists by militants in August, U.S. military officials said Friday.
Mohammed al-Joundi (search), discovered late Thursday by U.S. Marines sweeping through the city, told military officials he had been separated from the journalists about a month ago, Marine Capt. Ed Bitanga said.
"We can confirm that the driver of the two French hostages has been rescued," the spokesman said.
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 were ambushed by men in two cars as they were heading to cover Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (search).
At one point, al-Joundi was blindfolded and interrogated by his captors in a room where he saw a black flag with crossed swords, Bitanga said.
The driver also said 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, of Radio France Internationale, and Malbrunot, 41, of the daily newspaper Le Figaro.
On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (search) 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.
On Wednesday, U.S. and Iraqi forces found what commanders called a "hostage slaughterhouse" where foreign hostages were held and possibly killed by Sunni militants.
The small concrete house inside Fallujah's northern Jolan neighborhood had bloodstained mattresses and straw mats on the floor. Military officials said they found hostages' documents, CDs showing captives being killed and black clothing worn by militants in videos.