Santiago Sanchez returns to Spain after being detained in Iran | News Newsthedigitalchaps


Spanish national Santiago Sanchez was reported missing by Spain’s foreign ministry in October 2022 while walking from Spain to Qatar to attend the World Cup (Picture: REUTERS)

A Spanish football fan who was detained in Iran as he attempted to walk to the Qatar World Cup has finally returned home after being freed.

Santiago Sanchez’s social media update went dark after a post saying he was entering the country from Iraq. 

It later emerged he was being held on suspicion of espionage offences. His arrest came around the time of mass protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Ms Amini had been killed on September 22 of that year while in custody and the circumstances led to worldwide protests against the Irani state – which refused to back down and continued to suppress dissenting voices.

Mr Sanchez, who was 41 when he disappeared, touched down in jubilant scenes at Madrid’s Barajas Airport on Tuesday, with a crowd of well-wishers greeting his plane.

‘It has been very long, very hard but I am here in my country,’ he said to reporters after hugging assembled family and friends.

‘We are not aware of how fortunate we are to have been born here in this country [Spain].’

Spanish national Santiago Sanchez, who was reported missing by Spain's foreign ministry in October 2022 while walking from Spain to Qatar to attend the soccer World Cup, embraces his mother on the day he arrives in Spain, after his release from Iranian prison, in Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain, January 2, 2024. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Santiago Sanchez was greeted by family and friends at the airport (Picture: REUTERS)
Sanchez told reporters that it had been a ‘long and hard journey’ back to Spain (Picture: REUTERS)

Mr Sanchez had been sharing his journey with followers on his Instagram page, logging his countries such as Italy, Greece, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Turkey.

But his last post was sent on October 1 while he was still in Northern Iraq but preparing to cross the border into Iran.

‘Last village in northern Iraq, I’m separated by a mountain to get to Iran, the next country before arriving in Qatar,’ he had written.

Concern spread for the welfare of Mr Sanchez when he stopped blogging. The World Cup was played out in November and December 2022 with Spain reaching the round of 16, without Mr Sanchez being there to cheer them on. 

Mr Sanchez was released by Iranian authorities sometime in December and this was announced by Spain’s foreign office on New Year’s Eve. 

Tehran’s embassy in Madrid said the release took place ‘within the framework of friendly and historical relations between the two countries and in compliance with the laws of Iran’. 

Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares tweeted on Monday: ‘Today, happiness is complete. Finally Santiago will be very soon reunited with his family and friends in Spain.’

Among the crowd at the airport was Mr Sanchez’s mother Celia Cogedor who told reporters: ‘The nightmare has ended at last.’

‘The worst were the first months (after his disappearance) because nobody knew if he was alive or dead.’ she added, praising Spanish authorities for their efforts.

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