Hostage `treated very well'

Carroll is released in Iraq after 82 days

March 31, 2006|By BORZOU DARAGAHI

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The quaking woman in the black abaya had tears in her eyes and spoke English - the first sign to a startled receptionist that this visitor was different from the usual grieving widow or mother so common in this violent country.

But when she finally managed to explain, in broken Arabic, that she was Jill Carroll, it was not grief but a rare outburst of joy she sparked.

The idealistic American freelance correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, kidnapped by gunmen nearly three months ago, had been released unharmed by her captors yesterday, a splash of good news coloring one of post-invasion Iraq's bleakest stretches.

"I was treated very well," said Carroll, 28, smiling and seemingly in good health and spirits in an interview broadcast on the television channel of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's main Sunni Arab political organization.

"They never hit me," she said, wearing a gray and beige headscarf covering all but her face. "They never even threatened to hit me. I'm just happy to be free and want to be with my family."

Carroll's abduction and her disturbing videotaped messages on Arabic-language satellite channels had come to symbolize Iraq's continuing lawlessness and violence.

Carroll was held for 82 days by the mysterious kidnappers, who demanded that Iraqi and U.S. officials release all female prisoners as a precondition for her release. In the last videotape of her - aired on a Kuwaiti station weeks ago - Carroll urged negotiators to meet the kidnappers' demands quickly. The Monitor said Carroll's family and the paper pursued a half-dozen false leads during the ordeal.

Kidnappings, sometimes for ransom and other times as acts of political terror, have become a daily hazard of life in Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of foreign civilians have been seized, their bodies occasionally showing up in sewage ditches days later.

The perpetrators have alleged ties to official security organs and the Sunni Arab insurgency. Earlier this month American peace activist Tom Fox, kidnapped with three colleagues in November was found dead in Baghdad. His three British and Canadian colleagues were later rescued, reportedly by British-led forces. But Carroll said she was treated well by her captors, who killed her translator, Alan Enwiyah, 32, during the Jan. 7 abduction, which occurred as she left the office of a Sunni politician.

Speaking on the Islamic Party's Baghdad TV channel, Carroll said she was given good food, kept in a room with a shower and was allowed to read a newspaper and watch television once, but did not know where in Iraq she was being held.

Her freedom came as a surprise, she said.

"They just came to me and said `We're going,'" she said on television. "They didn't tell me what was going on."

The kidnappers apparently drove Carroll to western Baghdad shortly after noon and dropped her off, pointing her to a nearby branch office of the Islamic Party in Ameriya, a volatile district of western Baghdad known as a haven for insurgents.

They warned her not to talk with Americans or go to the Green Zone because it was infiltrated by insurgents, adding she might be killed if she cooperated with Americans, according to an account on the Monitor's Web site.

Wearing an all-covering traditional black abaya robe, Carroll walked up to the receptionist and handed a note explaining who she was, said Islamic Party officials.

Weeping and trembling, the Michigan native asked for help in broken Arabic.

"She looked to me as if she was happy but afraid at the same time," said one party official in Ameriya, who asked that his name not be published. "All that I understood from her was that she wanted to go to her family."

Party officials summoned a convoy of guards and armored vehicles to take her to the party's central Baghdad headquarters, where she calmed down, contacted her family and friends abroad and in Baghdad, and participated in the television interview before she was handed over to U.S. forces.

Reporters for The Washington Post, for whom Carroll freelanced early in the war, arrived at the Iraqi Islamic Party. She and her colleagues wept and hugged. Carroll borrowed a cell phone from a Sunni politician, waking up her twin sister, Katie, her father, and her mother, one after the other, according to The Post. "It's Jill," she said. "I'm fine, and I'm free."

According to The Post's account, Carroll received only sporadic news from the outside world during her captivity. The heavy news coverage and publicity of her case stunned her. She said she was surprised that Iraqi politicians, elected to office three weeks before her capture, had yet to form a government.

Carroll was told that the television interview she did was for internal party uses only and didn't know it would be broadcast, the Monitor reported.

Fearful of her kidnappers' warnings, she agreed to go to the Green Zone only after another Monitor reporter convinced her it was the best option, the Monitor said.

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