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Ukrainian Journalist Escapes Syrian Kidnappers

Ankhar Kochnyeva (file photo)
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has confirmed media reports that a Ukrainian journalist abducted in Syria has managed to escape her captors.

Ankhar Kochnyeva told the RIA Novosti news agency by phone that she had escaped from her captors on March 11.

Kochnyeva was kidnapped in October 2012 by a group that identified itself as a part of the Free Syrian Army opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

In an Internet video posted in November, Kochnyeva said she was a Russian secret service agent and asked that her abductors demands be fulfilled. It's not clear if she was coerced into making the statement.

The kidnappers later announced via their website that they wanted $50 million for her release.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said earlier that it had been negotiating with Syrian officials regarding Kochnyeva's release.

In other news, Turkish authorities say they've detained five people suspected of involvement in a deadly car bombing last month at a border crossing between Syria and Turkey.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said on March 11 that the suspects included four Syrians and one Turk. He said they were linked "with the Syrian intelligence and army."

Fourteen people were killed in the February 11 minibus bombing in the buffer zone between Turkey's Cilvegozu and Syria's Bab al-Hawa border crossings.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but a Syrian opposition faction accused the Syrian government of the bombing, saying it narrowly missed leaders of the group.

The 2-year-old Syrian civil war has strained relations between Ankara and Damascus, leading to the suspension of diplomatic contact and NATO's stationing of Patriot air-defense missiles in Turkey.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi group affiliated with Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for last week's killing of 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards in western Iraq.

The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant forums, says the group, Islamic State of Iraq, issued a statement on militant websites on March 11 claiming responsibility for the attack.

The Syrian troops had sought refuge and medical treatment in Iraq. They were in Iraq's western Anbar Province and being escorted back to Syria when they were ambushed.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said the attack occurred on March 4.

The attack raises the possibility of coordination between Al-Qaeda's Iraq branch and Islamic radicals in Syria who are fighting on the side of the rebels.

The UN estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's violence since March 2011.

Based on reporting by UNIAN, Interfax, AFP, and AP