Fox News Journalists Freed After Declaring Conversion on Videotape
By Steven Erlanger
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Two journalists kidnapped in Gaza were released unharmed on Sunday after being forced at gunpoint to say on a videotape that they had converted to Islam.
The two journalists for Fox News — Steve Centanni, 60, an American correspondent, and Olaf Wiig, 36, a freelance cameraman from New Zealand — were held for 13 days in an abandoned garage in the Gaza Strip as hostages of a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades.
“I’m really fine, healthy, in good shape and so happy to be free,” Centanni told Fox News. He said that the two had been forced at gunpoint to say that they were converting to Islam and had taken Muslim names. “I have the highest respect for Islam,” he said. “But it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
Earlier on Sunday, their captors delivered a video showing the two men in Arab robes reading from the Quran to indicate their conversion.
After their release, the two men were brought to a hotel in Gaza to be greeted by colleagues. They then met with the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, who had called for their captors to free them.
He dismissed suggestions that any group associated with al-Qaida was in Gaza and said of the kidnappers, “These are young men who carried out the action out of private beliefs.”
But the identities of the kidnappers were a puzzle, and there were no immediate arrests. Nor was there any immediate indication of a ransom payment. The kidnappers demanded that the United States release all Muslim prisoners, but they threatened no particular consequences.
In Gaza, there was speculation that the group consisted of angry or disaffected members of various militant groups trying to embarrass Haniya and President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Others suggested a private grievance. In a brief news conference, Wiig said he hoped the kidnapping would not prevent foreign journalists from covering Gaza. “That would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine and especially for the people of Gaza,” he said.
Wiig’s wife, Anita McNaught, a television journalist, thanked Palestinian officials and Fox News for their efforts. The men refused to take questions. They traveled to the Erez border crossing and entered Israel.