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

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.

In a scholarship application filled out shortly before Saturday's kidnapping, Carroll outlined proposals for reporting projects in Iraq. In them, she showed a keen understanding of the country.

She wanted to spend six months of the fellowship making her Arabic better still, she wrote in the application. "In this poorly understood region, where so much is at stake, important stories are lost everyday because the foreign press corps doesn't speak Arabic," Carroll wrote. "Journalism is a public service and readers are best-served if I and the people I am writing about speak the same language."

A Westerner in jeans, T-shirts and sweaters while at her place in Baghdad, Carroll slipped out into the city and much of Iraq wearing the black, enveloping abaya and head scarf of Iraqi women. Even with her red-frame glasses, she could walk unnoticed down a Baghdad street.

With violence roiling Iraq, a sizable number of foreign reporters largely restrict themselves to armored cars shuttling between hotels and the American-controlled Green Zone. They cover American officials and the isolated authorities of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Carroll went out in unarmored vehicles, without bodyguards or follow-up security cars.

On Saturday, her abductors were able to stop her car without firing a shot, her driver said.

The Washington Post is withholding his identity, as well as that of the person who received the cell phone call, for security reasons.

Carroll had gone to the office of Adnan Dulaimi, a white-haired Sunni Arab politician. Carroll believed she had a 10 a.m. appointment, colleagues said. She arrived early. Workers in the office kept her waiting 10 to 15 minutes, then told her Dulaimi was busy, the driver said.

Dulaimi denied after the kidnapping that there had been an appointment. At 10 a.m., he was at a scheduled news conference elsewhere with a secular Shiite politician, former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

Coming out of nowhere Saturday, clean-cut, well-dressed men with pistols swarmed Carroll's car as she left the failed interview. The ambush happened within a few hundred feet of Dulaimi's office, the driver said; he hadn't gone far enough to shift the car beyond third gear.

One attacker planted himself in the car's path, screaming at the driver to stop. The driver said he initially thought the men were guards clearing the route for a convoy going to or from the office of Dulaimi, like hundreds of armed convoys bullying their way through Baghdad daily. The driver stopped.

The men pulled the driver from the car. Cursing, one man fired a shot toward the driver where he had fallen to his hands and knees on the pavement. The rest piled into the car, with Carroll and Enwiyah still inside. The gunmen were shouting too loudly, the driver said, for him to hear anything Carroll or Enwiyah said.

Enwiyah's body was found in the same neighborhood. The Monitor said he had been shot twice in the head.

The first calls on the cell phone came within half an hour. The man on the other end said he had picked up the phone from Enwiyah's body, dumped in the Adil neighborhood. He called three or four more times, urging that someone be sent to pick up Enwiyah's body. It lay in the street for hours.

Enwiyah, a husband with young children, had that day shown a colleague a music CD by a band he once belonged to, the colleague recalled. All the other band members had since escaped to England, he told his colleague.

"I told him, 'This is your destiny,' " the colleague said. "He said, 'Yes, the most important thing is we're safe.' "

Other colleagues recalled Carroll saying something similar. "My fate is in Iraq," she told an Iraqi friend.

No public demands or assertions or responsibility have emerged in the kidnapping.

In the Adil neighborhood on Monday, graffiti made clear the sentiment toward Americans. "Get out," the words painted in English on a concrete wall declared. "We hate you."

A convoy of men in civilian BMWs and Opels made their way through traffic in the neighborhood. The men, wearing civilian clothes, openly held their Glock pistols and AK-47 assault rifles in view of other drivers. A wedding car draped in wreaths drove past, trailed by a van of clapping, singing women celebrating the union.

The quiet street where the kidnapping took place was partially blocked to traffic by broken concrete barriers. A dozen or so neatly dressed, clean-cut men in leather jackets milled together outside Dulaimi's office, the only signs of life on the street until the wedding convoy turned in to it.

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