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Ex-Nusra Front 'rescued German from Syrian armed group'

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, says it will prosecute those responsible for abduction of Janina Findeisen
JFS says it has split from al-Qaeda and is focused on the Syrian war (AFP)

Al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria has claimed it launched a prison raid to rescue a German journalist and her baby held by an "armed group" for almost a year.

The woman, named as 27-year-old Janina Findeisen, was seven months pregnant when she was abducted in Syria last October by a group claiming to be from within the Nusra Front, which has since renamed itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and distanced itself from al-Qaeda.

The German foreign ministry on Thursday confirmed a German national had escaped with her baby to Turkey, adding she was "in good condition considering the circumstances". The statement did not name the woman.

On Wednesday evening Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said its fighters had in fact freed the woman from an "armed group", and denied it had anything to do with her abduction last year.

"Janina Findeisen was kidnapped almost a year ago in Syria by a group of armed men. The armed group used JFS's name to demand a ransom," the group said in a series of statements on Twitter.

"We issued a statement on 1/12/2015 denying our involvement. A month ago we started an investigation after we received new information.

The group said the result of that investigation led it to a prison, and that it had "raided the prison, freed the journalist and arrested most of the group members".

It did not say where the raid took place, nor did it name the group.

"A few days ago the sharia court ordered her release. The court stated that the journalist entered Syria with a 'covenant of security', which means she must be protected during her visit.

"Today, Janina Findeisen entered Turkey with her baby. Members of the armed group will be prosecuted by the court."

JFS has in recent months attempted to distance itself from al-Qaeda's war against the West, in an effort to focus on the Syrian civil war and present a more "moderate" image to world powers, including the US and Russia. Neither country has recognised its apparent new direction.

Findeisen's rescue came a day after JFS accused another German journalist, Jurgen Todenhofer, of fabricating an interview in which it was alleged that the group had received weapons from the US.

Reporters Without Borders Germany, a non-profit group, welcomed the news of Findeisen's release.

"This case shows again the incalculable dangers to which journalists are continually exposed in the Syrian war," said Christian Mihr, the group's director. He said it was important that most German media outlets had refrained from writing about and sensationalising the case.

Focus news magazine reported on the case in February, saying Findeisen published under the pseudonym Marie Delhaes. It said she was kidnapped in October 2015 and gave birth to her son in December.

Focus, citing federal police sources, reported that Findeisen had been lured to Syria by a woman she knew from Bonn with the promise of exclusive information about militant groups.

She was abducted on arrival, with those responsible demanding $5m for her release.

The German embassy in Ankara was preparing the woman's return to Germany and thanked the Turkish government and other international partners for help they provided on the case.