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5 aid workers freed after months of captivity in Syria

PARIS - Five aid workers held captive in Syria since January have been freed, Doctors Without Borders said late Thursday.

Two of the captive aid workers were freed Wednesday and three were liberated on April 4, the group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, said. The men and women included nationals from Belgium, Denmark, Peru, Sweden and Switzerland, MSF said.

The abduction in January prompted the aid group to close a hospital and two medical centres, according to the statement, which released few details about the release of the aid workers seized in January in northern Syria.

Kidnappings in opposition-held territory have become common, particularly since last summer as militant groups gained influence among rebels in Syria.

Jihadi groups are believed responsible for most of the kidnappings, but criminal gangs and government-backed militias also have been involved with various motives. The kidnappings have included local and international journalists as well as aid workers.

The al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is believed to be behind most of the kidnappings.

"The relief at seeing our colleagues return safe and sound is mixed with anger when faced with a cynical act that effectively deprived vital assistance to a population already badly suffering by the war," Joanne Liu, the MSF international president, said in the statement.

In recent weeks, several of the kidnapped journalists have been released, including four French and two Spanish journalists. But the threat remains strong. On Thursday, the Times of London reported that its award-winning war correspondent Anthony Loyd and photographer Jack Hill were shot at and beaten by a rebel gang in northern Syria. It said they were recuperating in Turkey after narrowly escaping becoming hostages in Syria.

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