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The Jill Carroll Story – Part 1: The kidnapping

(Page 4 of 5)



They were a powerful force in Iraq, but they were like shadows behind a curtain. We could see broad outlines, but were left to guess at who they really were, how they think, and what motivates them.

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Alan and I had been focusing for several months on piecing together a clear picture of Iraq's Sunni community. Their tacit support for the insurgency allowed it to operate; understanding them was key to understanding the forces violently splitting the country.

Now I was to gain the insight we had so long sought. At such a price to Alan, I have never been so desperate for ignorance.

***

On the morning of Jan. 7, the phone rang in Monitor staff writer Scott Peterson's Istanbul home just as he was stepping out the door, headed to the airport. His wife, Alex, picked up, and gave the caller Scott's cellphone number. If he stopped now, he might miss his flight to eastern Turkey, where he was traveling to report a story on bird flu. Better to talk in the taxi, on the way.

Lean and intense, Mr. Peterson is a veteran foreign correspondent, the sort of person who wears a scarf as a memento of an attack by a poisonous snake in Africa. He's such a dedicated rock climber that he's built a climbing wall within the Monitor's small Baghdad apartment, where he spends four to six weeks at a time on assignment, to help himself stay physically and mentally sharp.

Five minutes down the road, the call came through. It was a British security firm that advises many journalists in Iraq. After a brief conversation, Peterson asked his driver to turn around. He called the foreign editor to inform him of his new destination – Iraq.

Sometime that day, Peterson, a habitual notetaker, wrote "Jill Abducted in Baghdad" in one of the small blue books he uses to document his life.

Underneath that line, in smaller letters, he wrote one word: "prayers."

P.G.

***

The room was small, with furniture that was fancy by Iraqi standards – two couches and an overstuffed chair covered in dark velvet with gold trim. The TV and its satellite box were in the corner.

Abu Rasha – a big man whom I would come to see as an organizer of my guards – lay down on one of the sofas. His wife and one of his children sat next to him on a chair.

Then Abu Rasha handed me the remote. "Whatever you want," he said.

How do you channel surf with the mujahideen? I asked myself that question as I flipped from one show to another, trying to act casual. Politics was out. News was out. Anything that might show even a flash of skin was out.

Finally, I found Channel 1 from Dubai, and Oprah was on. OK, good, Oprah, I thought. No naked women, no whatever, she's not in hijab, but it's OK.

The show was about people who had had really bad things happen to them, and had survived, and had hope. One woman came on who had been a model in the '70s and had breast cancer, and now she's a famous photographer. It really had an impact on me. Oprah talked about how people get through these things, and I thought, well, this is sort of prophetic, maybe.

I had only been in captivity a few hours. This house, big, with two stories, was the second place I'd been taken.

The first had been a tiny, three-room house among tall crops on Baghdad's western outskirts. It was a poor place, built of cinder blocks. My captors gave me a new set of clothes, and I changed in the bathroom while the stern-faced woman of the house looked on.

They took pains to explain they wouldn't take the $100 in cash they'd found in my pockets.

"When you return to America, this with you," said one, waving the $100 bill.

Who were these people? Kidnapping was justified but taking money was not? And less than an hour after killing Alan to kidnap me, they seemed to be saying they would eventually let me go.

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