The Jill Carroll Story – Part 1: The kidnapping
My chief captor had an idea about how to prod the US government into action: another video.Skip to next paragraph
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He said this one would be different, and left.
I turned to the two guards sitting on cushions a few feet away and started to panic. Really, really panic.
"Oh my God, oh my God, they're going to kill me, this is going to be it. I don't know when but they're going to do it," I thought.
I crawled over to Abu Hassan, the one who seemed more grown-up and sympathetic. His 9mm pistol was by his side, as usual.
"You're my brother, you're truly my brother," I said in Arabic. "Promise me you will use this gun to kill me by your own hand. I don't want that knife, I don't want the knife, use the gun."
I started to cry hysterically. By now I'd been held captive by Iraqi insurgents for six weeks. They'd given me a new hijab, a new name (Aisha), and tried to convert me to Islam. They'd let me play with their children – and repeatedly accused me of working for the CIA.
At night I'd fall asleep and be free in my dreams. Then I'd wake up and my situation would land on me like a weight. Every morning, it was as if I was kidnapped anew.
That particular morning I'd received a visit from Abu Nour, the most senior of my captors. As usual, the distinctive scent of his spicy cologne had announced his presence. As usual, I'd snapped my eyes to the ground to avoid seeing his face.
"We need to make a new video of you," he'd said, in his high-pitched, yet gravelly voice. "The last video showed you in good condition, and that made the government move slowly."
The British government had moved quickly, he'd said, after a video had shown hostage Margaret Hassan in bad condition. They wanted to push the US in the same way.
Margaret Hassan! An Irish aid worker married to an Iraqi, she'd been seized in Baghdad in October 2004, while on her way to work. Less than a month later, she was killed.
After the leader left, I sat and stared into the glowing metal of the propane heater, my knees drawn up under my red velveteen dishdasha. I was completely terrified.
If it was going to happen, I wanted it to be quick. So I crawled over to Abu Hassan and begged.
"I don't want the knife!" I sobbed.
Neither Abu Hassan nor his fellow guard – the blubbery, adolescent Abu Qarrar – really knew what to do about my outburst.
"We're not going to kill you. Why? What is this?" said Hassan.
His voice was flat and sounded insincere.
"Abu Qarrar, you speak English. You have to tell my family that I love them and that I'm sorry," I implored.
I sat against the wall of a house whose location I didn't know, under a window to an outside I couldn't walk through, and cried and cried.
• • •
In Baghdad, Jan. 7, 2006 was a sunny Saturday. For me it promised to be an easy day.
Not that my life in Baghdad was easy. Freelance journalism is a tough business everywhere. But I didn't want to sit in a cubicle in the US and write, as I had, about the Department of Agriculture food pyramid. Here I was living my dream of being a foreign correspondent – even if that meant sometimes living in a hotel so seedy it was best to buy your own sheets.
First up were some routine interviews of Iraqi politicians trying to form a new government. Three weeks before, the country had chosen its first democratically elected permanent government. But Sunni politicians were dismayed at how few seats they'd won.
Later, I planned to leave my virus-ridden laptop (stashed in the trunk) with a techie friend of my interpreter, Alan Enwiya.
Alan was vital to my newsgathering process. We had been a team for almost two years. We were also friends – it felt as if we were almost siblings – who'd worked through Iraq's difficult and increasingly dangerous conditions.