American teacher freed in West Bank

October 12, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- An American teacher was released late yesterday by captors in the West Bank who had held him for a day.

Michael Phillips, 24, who teaches English in Palestinian refugee camps in Nablus, was unharmed, said Samah Atout, a manager for the nonprofit for which the Louisiana resident has worked.

"He's totally OK, and he doesn't want to leave Nablus," Atout said by phone shortly after Phillips was released.

Shortly afterward, Phillips told Reuters news service: "I'm fine, and I'm happy that this incident is over." He said he had not been mistreated.

The circumstances of Phillips' abduction and eventual release remain unclear.

Earlier yesterday, a group calling itself Ansar al Sunna had faxed to Reuters a copy of Phillips' U.S. passport, along with his Israeli entry visa and a student identification.

Ansar al Sunna was not previously known in the West Bank, though a Sunni group by that name has carried out killings in Iraq. Palestinian militants in Nablus said they were unfamiliar with such an organization.

A masked spokesman for the group later demanded that Israel release imprisoned Palestinian women and minors. The spokesman, who spoke to reporters in the Gaza Strip, said Phillips was abducted to end "the crusader war on Islam."

Phillips has taught English around Nablus for three or four months as part of Project Hope, said Atout, a co-founder and acting manager of the Canadian nonprofit.

Phillips is from Mandeville, La., near New Orleans, and lives alone in Nablus, she said. He was last seen 24 hours earlier and did not show up to teach a class yesterday, Atout said.

The abduction came a month after kidnappers in the Gaza Strip released two Fox News journalists, an American correspondent and a cameraman from New Zealand, after holding them for nearly two weeks.

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