Fox Journalists Freed After 13 Days as Hostages
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Two Fox News journalists were freed today in Gaza after two weeks of captivity. They appeared to be in good health. A previously unknown group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails. There's no indication any demands were met. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Correspondent Steve Centanni, an American, and cameraman Olaf Wiig from New Zealand were dropped off at a Gaza City hotel by Palestinian security officials. After a meeting with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Centanni held a short news conference.
Mr. STEVE CENTANNI (Fox News Journalist): I just hope this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover this story, because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world needs to know more about. And so do not be discouraged. Come and tell the story, it's a wonderful story.
GRADSTEIN: Centanni later told Fox News in a phone call that during his captivity he was held at times face down in a dark garage and he thought he was about to be killed. He said he was also tied up in painful positions and that he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to make statements that were videotaped. He also told Fox that two weeks ago, while reporting in Gaza, their van, which was clearly marked as a journalist's car, was surrounded by gunmen and they were abducted.
Over the past two years about two dozen foreign journalists and aide workers have been kidnapped, usually by Palestinians seeking jobs in the security services. Just before Centanni and Wiig were freed, the group released a second video in which the men made anti-Western statements. And Centanni said he had converted to Islam and recited a verse from the Koran to prove it.
Mr. CENTANNI (Foreign language spoken)
GRADSTEIN: There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet, he said. Even after the two men were freed it was not clear who the Holy Jihad Brigades are and whether they received anything in return for the journalists' release. Palestinian security officials said they were a front for local groups.
Prime Minister Haniyeh said the kidnappers have no link to al-Qaida or any other organization or faction. He said that al-Qaida as an organization does not exist in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. Counsel General thanked Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for his help in freeing the men.
Soon after their release, Centanni and Wiig arrived at the Erez crossing point between Gaza and Israel. So far there have been no arrests in the case. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.