Four missing journalists safe in Jordan

Suspected as spies, they were held a week by Iraq

War In Iraq

April 02, 2003|By Bart Jones | Bart Jones,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Newsday journalists Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman, who had been missing in Iraq for a week while covering the war, were released yesterday by Iraqi authorities after a harrowing week in a notorious prison and have crossed the Jordanian border to freedom.

Two other missing journalists, Molly Bingham, a free-lance photographer from Louisville, Ky., and a Danish free-lance photographer, Johan Rydeng Spanner, were detained with the two Newsday staffers. They also were freed yesterday and crossed the Iraqi border into Jordan.

McAllester telephoned Newsday Foreign Editor Dele Olojede at 1:06 p.m. Eastern time zone from the border to say the two staffers had just left Iraqi territory and were safe and in good health.

"We are fine. We are well," McAllester said in a telephone conversation with Newsday editors as he and Saman waited at customs to enter Jordan.

A relieved Saman added, "We're in good spirits and happy to be safe and looking forward to a nice meal."

McAllester, 33, a reporter, and Saman, 29, a photographer, had been missing since March 24. The journalists told their editors yesterday that they were detained by Iraqi intelligence agents early that morning in their room at Baghdad's Palestine International Hotel, apparently because the Iraqis thought they were American spies.

"We thought we were going to be killed at any moment," McAllester said.

The two were handcuffed and taken downstairs by freight elevator. They were transported to Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, where they were kept until early yesterday. Iraqi authorities then drove them to the Jordanian border.

Newsday editors had worked frantically to win their release, reaching out to everyone from the Vatican to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"We are just euphoric," Newsday Publisher and Chief Executive Raymond Jansen said. The Newsday newsroom erupted in cheers when Olojede announced the news.

Newsday Editor Anthony Marro said, "There are a great many people in many different countries who worked very hard to try to make this happen, and we're deeply grateful to all of them."

Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem who is a Washington-based adviser to the Palestinian Authority, said McAllester and Saman may owe their freedom in large part to the intervention of Arafat.

Abington said that he had spoken twice with Arafat by telephone in the past few days and that Arafat agreed to try to help free the journalists. Arafat then instructed one of his former ambassadors to Baghdad, Azama Al-Ahmad, to contact the head of Iraqi military intelligence, who confirmed that the journalists were being held and then apparently helped order their release, Abington said.

"The Palestinians played a very helpful role in this," he said.

Bart Jones is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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