Kidnapped Journalists Appear on Videotape

Fox News journalists Steve Centanni, right, and Olaf Wiig, who were seized nine days ago in the Gaza Strip, said their captors were treating them well.
Fox News journalists Steve Centanni, right, and Olaf Wiig, who were seized nine days ago in the Gaza Strip, said their captors were treating them well. (Ramatan News Agency Via Associated Press)
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 24, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 23 -- Kidnappers released a videotape Wednesday of two Fox News journalists abducted nine days ago in the Gaza Strip, and in language that ominously echoed kidnappers in Iraq, they claimed offenses had been committed against Islam and demanded that the United States release all Muslims from its jails.

The video showed American reporter Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, casually dressed and looking fit. The two men said they had received food, water and access to showers. "Our captors are treating us well," Centanni said.

"We are in fairly good condition," Centanni said. Addressing his family, he said: "We love you all and want to go home. Hope to see you soon."

A statement signed by a group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades demanded that all Muslims in American jails be released within 72 hours. It did not make any direct threat to harm the two journalists when the deadline passes, but it noted that "those who have been unjust will find out the consequences."

John Moody, a senior vice president with Fox News, said in a statement released Wednesday: "We're encouraged that our colleagues appear to be alive and well in the tape that was released today. We trust that the abductors understand they are responsible for Steve and Olaf's welfare and safe return. We ask for their immediate release."

"The United States strongly condemns the kidnapping of these independent journalists, who were in Gaza to tell the Palestinian story to the world," State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said. "They should be released immediately and without condition. This kidnapping highlights the challenges and dangers to freedom of the press that journalists face every day as they seek to cover events in areas of conflict around the world."

More than a dozen journalists have been kidnapped in Gaza in the past year, but most have been released within hours.

"Usually, the kidnappers announce very quickly who they are and what they want. That was not true this time," said Gef Julliard, an editor at Reporters Without Borders, an organization to promote press freedom, speaking from Paris. "They may be emulating the groups in Iraq. We are worried this is a global trend."

The statement itself bore none of the hallmarks of past Palestinian demands. It did not seek the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the demands were aimed at the United States rather than at Israel. The rhetoric sought to portray the kidnapping as an act in a wider war between Islam and the United States.

"I have never heard of this group. It seems from the style and name and demands that it is an al-Qaeda style group," said Ziad Abu Amr, an independent member of the Palestinian legislature in Gaza and an author of books on radical Islam. "The journalists were kidnapped because they were Westerners. It is clear the demands are not geared at domestic issues."

The kidnapping of the journalists, who were seized at gunpoint in daylight near the center of Gaza City, has raised concerns about the ability of reporters to cover the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Western reporters received warnings Tuesday from their embassies and from journalists in Gaza to stay away.

"I think it has a potentially chilling effect on the ability of the news media to report on Gaza," said Joel Campagna, a Middle East expert at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

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