In Ambush Lasting Seconds, U.S. Reporter in Iraq Becomes Hostage

Jill Carroll, shown here about a year ago, was on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor.
Jill Carroll, shown here about a year ago, was on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor. (By Omar Fekeiki -- The Washington Post)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

BAGHDAD, Jan. 9 -- The call came from reporter Jill Carroll's cell phone, from a young, wary-sounding Iraqi man who said he had just picked up the phone from a sprawled body on a Baghdad street. "The person this phone belongs to was just killed," the caller said.

The caller was wrong. The body was that of interpreter Allan Enwiyah, 32, who had just become one of thousands of Iraqis to be killed in nearly three years of war in Iraq.

The phone belonged to Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance reporter with hennaed hair who minutes before had become the first female American journalist to be kidnapped in Iraq.

Carried off in the Red Toyota Cressida of her driver, who escaped unharmed, she became the latest of more than 400 foreigners and more than 30 journalists to be abducted in Iraq's pitiless violence. Thousands of Iraqis have been abducted in the same period. Numerous Westerners remain in captivity, including four members of the activist group Christian Peacemaker Teams who were taken late last year.

"All together, it didn't take 10 seconds," Carroll's driver said Monday night, two days after she was kidnapped in a west Baghdad neighborhood seen as heavily sympathetic to insurgents.

"I always talked to her, told her Iraq is a place where reporters don't feel comfortable now," the driver said. "She always said, 'No, if there is a place I feel comfortable in, it's Iraq.' "

Carroll, a native of Michigan, was on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, a Boston-based daily newspaper that has long carried extensive overseas coverage. Carroll had come to the Middle East in October 2002 and reported for Jordanian, Italian and American news organizations, including for The Washington Post in Baghdad for a few weeks in early 2003.

Carroll's kidnapping occurred in the same part of Baghdad as that of Margaret Hassan, an aid official believed killed by her abductors in 2004. Numerous foreign men have been killed by their kidnappers since 2003; of the several Western women who have been kidnapped, Hassan is the only one believed to have died at the hands of her captors. Iraqi officials say as many as 30 Iraqis a day are reported kidnapped in Baghdad. The abductions are part of the rising lawlessness accompanying the country's political unrest. Some Iraqi hostages are freed for ransom gathered by friends and families; others are dumped out on roads, dead.

In a statement, the Monitor called Carroll an "established journalist" experienced in the Middle East. "In recent months, the Monitor has tapped into her professionalism, energy, and fair reporting on the Iraqi scene," the newspaper said. "It was her drive to gather direct and accurate views from political leaders that took her into western Baghdad's Adil neighborhood on Saturday morning.

"The Monitor joins Jill's colleagues -- Iraqi and foreign -- in the Baghdad press in calling for her immediate and safe release," the statement said.

Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim said in the statement: "Jill's ability to help others understand the issues facing all groups in Iraq has been invaluable. We are urgently seeking information about Ms. Carroll and are pursuing every avenue to secure her release."

Unlike most Western reporters in Baghdad, Carroll spoke Arabic well enough to easily talk to ordinary Iraqi people and interview Iraqi officials. She had picked up the language while working as a business reporter in Jordan and, in the days before her abduction, had renewed a plea to her Iraqi interpreter and driver to speak only Arabic to her as they traveled so she could improve her fluency, colleagues said.

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