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Jill Carroll: finally free

By Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / March 31, 2006


Katie Carroll went from a deep sleep to instantly awake when she saw the Iraq country code on her caller ID.

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She grabbed the phone. It was 5:45 a.m and the ringing heralded the news about her twin sister, Jill, who had been held hostage in Iraq for nearly three months. "Katie, it's me," said the voice on the other end of the line. "I'm free."

It was Jill herself, safe after 82 days.

"Then she burst into tears and I did, too,'' says Katie.

Journalist Jill Carroll was freed in Baghdad Thursday ending a period of captivity marked by an enormous global outpouring of support and calls for her release.

"I'm just really grateful. The overwhelming emotion is gratitude. I am glad this day has arrived and thank whatever forces, divine and otherwise, that helped bring about this day," says Jill.

On Jan. 7, Monitor freelancer Carroll traveled to interview Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi in Baghdad's western Adil neighborhood. He was not in his office, and, after waiting some 20 minutes, Carroll and her Iraqi driver and interpreter left.

After traveling about 300 yards, they were attacked by gunmen. Carroll was seized, and her interpreter, Allan Eniwya, was killed.

Thursday, Carroll's captors simply drove her to Amariyah, stopped the car, pointed her in the direction of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IPP) office at about 12:20 p.m. local time and then drove off.

Carroll, who was on assignment for the Monitor when she was kidnapped, gave a short interview to Baghdad TV, which is owned by the IIP, before being transported to the Green Zone by the US military. She was told the interview was for internal party uses only, and didn't realize it would be broadcast. In that interview Carrroll said that for most of her ordeal she was kept in a darkened room which she later described as a "cave."

"I really don't know where I was. The room had a window but the glass you know, you can't see," she said, making a motion with her hand as if the window was blocked, "and you couldn't hear any sound, and so I would sit in the room."

"If I had to take a shower I walked, you know, two feet, to the next door to take a shower or go to the bathroom and come back." From time to time, she says, she had contact with Iraqi women and children in the house which she found comforting.

She was only allowed to watch television and read a newspaper once and had little information about what was going on in the world at large.

"I was treated well, but I don't know why I was kidnapped," Carroll told the TV station about her kidnappers. In videotaped statements her captors had implied they would kill her if Iraqi prisoners held by coalition forces weren't released. But Carroll said, "They never hit me. They never even threatened to hit me."

Carroll says she asked an IIP official to call the Monitor's Baghdad hotel. He refused, and called the Washington Post's Baghdad office. Carroll is close personal friends with two of the Post's Iraqi staffers.

Her next call was to twin sister Katie. She then called her parents, Jim and Mary Beth.

The first thing she told me today was, 'I love you,'" says Mary Beth. "She said, 'Every single day I was in captivity, I cried over how worried you must be, and what a burden this must be for the family.' "

In fact, the day before release, Katie Carroll had appeared on the Arab TV station Al Arabiyah, where she had talked of the effect of the kidnapping on the family and pleaded for information that might lead to her sister's release.

"I was dreaming that this would be the way I'd find out - that she'd call me in the middle of the night like this,'' says Katie. "She sounded great. I just want to thank everyone who's prayed and given us support through this time, and we're obviously looking forward to some private time with Jill."

Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim said Thursday: "This is an exciting day, we couldn't be happier. We are so pleased she'll be back with her family. The prayers of people all over the world have been answered."

President George Bush had said Carroll's release was a top priority for his administration, and her freedom was welcomed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a press conference in Berlin. Ms. Rice spoke of the "great delight and great relief of the United States, the people of the United States and, I'm sure, the people of the world at the release today of Jill Carroll."

Carroll's release followed half a dozen false leads in the effort to free her - people who contacted the Monitor or the Carroll family. Some demanded exorbitant ransoms, but never managed to produce a "proof of life." One scam artist, calling himself a repentant member of the kidnapper group and seeking a payoff, turned out to be a young Nigerian and was arrested in Germany. Other would-be players said they had contacts and could free her, but never delivered.