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The Jill Carroll Story – Part 1: The kidnapping

(Page 3 of 5)



The gunmen ran at us. A whisper exploded from me into a scream, "No, no, NO!" as I tried to get out. The door closed on my right ankle as someone shoved me back in, pushing so hard that the right lens of my glasses popped out. Through the crack in the door – before the intruder slammed it – I saw the last moment of Alan's life.

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Adnan was gone. The rotund man was in the driver's seat now. Other men jumped in sandwiching me between them. We sped away, out onto the main road, then turned right.

"Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!" my abductors shouted, excited and joyful. "Jihad! Jihad!"

***

The taking of Jill Carroll off a Baghdad street on Jan. 7, 2006, created many hostages, of whom Jill herself was simply the central one, and the most endangered.

For her family and many friends and colleagues, normal life ended in the hours and days to come, as they heard what had happened. Henceforth, there would be worry, sometimes fear, and new routines that had one aim: free Jill.

Their solace was action. The first thing her father Jim Carroll did that black Saturday morning was fire up his computer to see what he could learn, while Mary Beth, her mother, contacted family members. Sister Katie, who worked for an international development consulting company, began calling every number she knew in the Middle East.

In Boston before the sun rose, the Monitor assembled an ad hoc Team Jill – Marshall Ingwerson, the managing editor; David Scott, the foreign editor; and Amelia Newcomb, the deputy foreign editor. Richard Bergenheim was in Mexico taking his first vacation since becoming the paper's editor. He caught the next flight back.

For the next 82 days, they met every few hours, sometimes starting at 5:30 a.m. and often finishing the day at 10 or 11 p.m. with a conference call with Baghdad. Some of these editors had dealt before with the stress and emotion over the kidnapping – and even murder – of foreign correspondents filing for the paper. But none were truly prepared for what lay ahead.

Jill herself, isolated by Islamist insurgents, did not envision such rallies to her cause. In the weeks to come she sometimes would avoid thinking about her family, because it made her sad; when she did, she imagined them apprehensive, waiting for some sort of word from the US government. As for the Monitor, well, she was just a freelancer, and it wasn't a rich paper. She figured that following her kidnapping and the murder of her interpreter, its rotating Baghdad staff would have fled Iraq.

She was wrong.

P.G.

***

In the first minutes after my abduction, my captors peppered me with questions in Arabic. I played dumb, fearful they would think I understood too much and kill me.

They quickly drove Adnan's Toyota onto the highways of western Baghdad and surrounding farmlands, going in circles, apparently to kill time. Their "success" was granted by God, they believed, and they issued thanks repeatedly. "Allah Akbar" they said, "God is greatest."

"They're going to take me out into a field and kill me," I thought as we bumped down rural back roads.

They seemed to read my thoughts, perplexed that I was afraid amidst their jubilation.

"Why you worried?" they asked in stilted English. "No, no, no, [this is] jihad! [We are] Iraqi, Iraqi mujahideen! Why you worried?"

Sunni Muslim insurgents were – still are – the most active hostage-takers in Iraq. Many were allied to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who led Al Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed by a US airstrike June 7.

But the outside world didn't know much about these groups. These weren't people who held press conferences or articulated their grievances through the political process.

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