Four New York Times journalists arrive safely in Tunisia

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Four detained New York Times journalists were handed over to a Turkish diplomat in Libya at 5:30 AM EST, a Turkish embassy official told The Envoy Monday. The Turkish diplomat, Levent Sahinkaya, (right, with freed journalists at the Turkish embassy in Tripoli) delivered the journalists to U.S. officials on the Tunisian border with Libya at about 11AM EST, Turkey's U.S. envoy Namik Tan said.

"Huge relief," New York Times editor Bill Keller said on twitter. "NYT Four arrive Tunisia. They will have some story to tell."

"Amazing my wife @LynseyAddario, Tyler Hicks, Stephen Farrell, Anthony Shadid left Libya," Addario's husband Paul de Bendern wrote on Twitter. "Yes, my wife is coming home. It's been dark days."

"Best day of my life," de Bendern then wrote.

My colleague Michael Calderone reports at the Cutline on the Times' journalists' release:

"We are grateful that our journalists have been released, and we are working to reunite them with their families," a Times spokeswoman said in a statement to The Cutline. "We have been told they are in good health and are in the process of confirming that. We thank the Turkish, British, and U.S. governments for their assistance in the release. We also appreciate the efforts of those in the Libyan government who helped secure the release this morning."

The Times last spoke to the four journalists—Anthony Shadid (reporter), Stephen Farrell (reporter), Tyler Hicks (photographer) and Lynsey Addario (photographer)—on March 15.

Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, suggested two days later in an interview with ABC News that the journalists would be released. The Times initially reported their journalists would be out Friday, but the process took several days longer.

The United States no longer has a diplomatic presence in Libya and therefore has little ability to provide on the ground assistance to journalists captured in the war-torn country.  Turkish diplomats were involved in helping free the journalists.

Namik Tan, Turkey's ambassador to the United States, tweeted Monday that "the 4 @nytimes journalists are on their way to leave Libyan border and will be delivered to US officials."

The Gadhafi regime closely monitors foreign journalists who have been invited to Tripoli and permits them to cover government-approved events and areas. However, foreign journalists working independently outside the capital have been detained and beaten by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

(Top photo: New York Times photographers Tyler Hicks [right, in glasses] and Lynsey Addario [far left], run for cover during a bombing run by Libyan government planes at a checkpoint near the oil refinery of Ras Lanuf on Friday, Mar. 11. The other photojournalists pictured, starting from second left are John Moore of Getty Images, Holly Pickett and Philip Poupin. Hicks and Addario, along with NYT correspondents Stephen Farrell and Anthony Shadid, were released on Monday. Photo Credit: Paul Conroy /Reuters. Photo, above right: Freed New York Times journalists Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Turkish diplomat Levent Sahinkaya, Lynsey Addario, Anthony Shadid, at the Turkish embassy in Tripoli Monday, courtesy of Turkey's foreign ministry, March 21, 2011.)