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SITE In The News
American Reporter Kidnapped in Baghdad Is Released
By Kirk Semple
Published in: New York Times
March 30, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 30 - Jill Carroll, the American reporter who was kidnapped in Baghdad nearly three months ago, was freed today on a street in western Baghdad and walked into the office of an Islamic political party clutching a letter from her captors asking the party to help her.

The Islamic jihadist group that kidnapped Ms. Carroll, 28, said in an Internet video that it had freed her because the American government had agreed to some of its conditions, according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Web postings by insurgent groups. The jihadist group, the Revenge Brigade, had demanded that the United States release all Iraqi women from its prisons.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, declared in a news conference here that no American officials in Iraq "entered into any arrangements with anyone" to secure Ms. Carroll's release.

The American command announced in late January that it had freed five Iraqi female detainees, but it insisted that the release had nothing to do with the kidnappers' demands. Five other Iraqi women were still being held in American detention centers, according to Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

Richard Bergenheim, the editor of The Christian Science Monitor, the paper for which Ms. Carroll was reporting at the time of her abduction, also said there had been no "negotiations for her release."

Ms. Carroll was dropped off in a Sunni Arab enclave in western Baghdad at midday and walked into the nearby offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party, an Islamist political group, dressed in the traditional regional garb of a light green Islamic head scarf and gray dress. Like many Western female journalists, Ms. Carroll often wore Islamic clothing when she left her bureau in order to conceal her identity and try to blend in.

In an interview conducted there and shown on a station owned by the Iraqi Islamic Party, Ms. Carroll said she had been largely confined to a small room but had been unharmed by her captors.

"I was treated very well, it's important people know that," she said emphatically. She added: "They never threatened me in any way."

Officials at the Iraqi Islamic Party, which claims to represent the interests of disenfranchised Sunni Arabs, said they had no involvement in Ms. Carroll's release, did not know her captors and were surprised by her appearance at their doorstep.

Ms. Carroll's release came during a time of some rapprochement between the American Embassy and Sunni Arab political leaders. Some of those Sunni leaders have praised Mr. Khalilzad for openly pressuring Shiite politicians in recent weeks to disband their militias and to be more accomodating to the political aspirations of the Sunnis.

The Iraqi Islamic Party is one of the leading representatives of conservative Sunni Arabs and has been working closely with the ambassador during the fraught negotiations to form a new government.

Hundreds of foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been abducted since the invasion in 2003, but no kidnapping drew the kind of international coverage that Ms. Carroll's did. She is the only American woman to have been kidnapped in Iraq and, according to her family, was motivated by a desire to publicize the hardships facing the Iraqi people. This story of pluck and empathy seemed to capture the public's imagination.

In addition, her plight struck close to home for many of the journalists here in Baghdad who covered it and for whom kidnapping has become one of the foremost threats.

Ms. Carroll, a freelance journalist, was kidnapped on Jan. 7 in western Baghdad as she was leaving the offices of Adnan Dulaimi, a hardline Sunni Arab politician whom she was trying to interview. Her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was shot dead at the scene.

In the weeks afterward, her captors released three videotapes, which showed her in increasing distress. The kidnappers issued a statement through a Kuwaiti television station in February demanding that the Americans release all imprisoned women by Feb. 26 or Ms. Carroll would be killed.

The kidnapper's deadline passed, and there was no further word of Ms. Carroll. On Feb. 28, Iraq's interior minister told ABC News that Ms. Carroll was still alive, that he knew who had kidnapped her and that he believed she would be released soon.

During her interview on the Islamic Party's Baghdad Television today, Ms. Carroll said she did not know why she was held, suggesting that her captors had not told her she was being used as collateral for female prisoners.

"They didn't tell me what was going on," she said.

On Jan. 30, however, Al Jazeera reported that in a videotape of Ms. Carroll, she called for the American and Iraqi governments to release all women held in the jails of the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the United States military, and said doing so would help to win her release.

In a video interview recorded by her captors before she was freed and released today on the Internet, Ms. Carroll criticized the American military and government. "I feel guilty, honestly," she said. "I have been treated very well, like a guest and given good food, and never never hurt, while these women in Abu Ghraib, terrible things are happening to them. American soliders torture and other things, I don't even want to I can't even say. So I feel guilty. I think it really shows the diference between the mujahideen and the Americans. The mujahideen are merciful and kind. That is why I'm free and alive."

She added: "There are a lot of lies that come out, the American government calling the mujahideen terrorists and other things. I think it's important for the Ameican people to hear from me that the mujahideen are only trying to defend their country." It is unclear when the tape was recorded or under what conditions it was made. The recording was made available today by the SITE Institute.

Alaa Makki, a senior official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, said in an interview today that Ms. Carroll seemed wary about talking about her captors.

"We asked her, 'Why did you come to the I.I.P.? Why did you choose the I.I.P.?' " he recalled. "She said, 'I really don't know.' "

He went on: "She said, 'I promised the kidnappers not to speak.' She was a little bit frightened. She was very careful. She didn't give much information."

In the television interview today, she said she was almost entirely cut off from the outside world. She did not know where she had been held, and said her room had a window but that it was obscured. She was well fed by her captors and was permitted to take showers and go to the bathroom whenever she wanted. She was able to watch television and see a newspaper only once.

"I didn't really know what was going on in the outside world," she said.

Her release, she said, was as mysterious as her capture. "I don't know what happened," she said. "They just came to me and said, 'Okay, we're letting you go now.' "

Tariq al-Hashemi, the general secretary of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said in a news conference that Ms. Carroll walked into the office and handed officials a paper written in Arabic with a request that the party help her.

But Mr. Hashemi disavowed any connection to the kidnappers and said he had no idea who they were. He had been among several prominent Iraqi politicians who had made appeals for her freedom.

Ms. Carroll's twin sister, Katie, said in a statement read on the Al-Arabiya television network on Wednesday, "I've been living a nightmare, worrying if she is hurt or ill."

Islamic Party officials contacted American authorities soon after her arrival, and a convoy of American military vehicles whisked her to the American Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

"All I can say right now is I am very happy," Ms. Carroll said in the television interview. "I am happy to be free and I want to be with my family."

Ms. Carroll traveled to the Middle East in 2002 with a dream of covering a war. In the American Journalism Review last year, she wrote that she moved to Jordan six months before the start of the war "to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began." She worked for a newspaper in Amman and took Arabic lessons.

About 430 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since April 2003 and nearly 50 of them are American, according to an American official working closely with the Hostage Working Group, an inter-agency task force based at the American Embassy in Baghdad.

Thirteen Americans, all presumed to be in captivity, are still missing, according to the official, adding that most are Iraqi-Americans.

While the abduction of foreign citizens often receives widespread news coverage, the kidnapping of Iraqis largely goes unnoticed even though it reflects even more sharply the degree of lawlessness in Iraq.

Between 10 and 20 Iraqis are kidnapped every day, most for financial gain, according to the American official. Most are eventually released after ransom payments that average between $20,000 and $30,000, the official added.

Mr. Bergenheim, the editor of The Christian Science Monitor, took note of the wider problem during a press conference outside the paper's Boston headquarters, saying that "the world doesn't hear the voice" of kidnapped Iraqis.

"I'm just really grateful she was released," Mr. Bush said, speaking to reporters in Cancun, Mexico, where he was preparing to meet with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

More violence erupted around Iraq today. Homemade bombs exploded in Kirkuk and Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 10, police officials said. In the southern city of Basra, a prominent lawyer was shot dead in the center of the city, according to a police official.

The American military command announced today that a soldier assigned to the Ninth Naval Construction Regiment in Anbar died from wounds sustained on Wednesday during a confrontation with insurgents.

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