Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 3: The first video

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

Monday morning – two days after the kidnapping – my captors began trying to convert me to Islam.

At first, they sat me down in front of the television and turned on a satellite channel which airs programs about Islam in English. After a while Abu Ali – the salt-and-pepper bearded man who had helped kidnap me – came into the room carrying a Koran.

He was eager to show me the similarities between Islam and Christianity, so he was telling me how many stories from the Bible are actually in the Koran. I was anxious to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic.

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He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in just one day.

I tried to listen to Abu Ali's lesson attentively as he translated complicated Koranic Arabic into more basic Arabic he thought I could understand. He was very pleased that I showed interest in learning. He kept saying there was no pressure, no pressure in Islam, that they were forbidden from forcing people to convert. True acceptance must come from a free will.

They'd kidnapped me, and they all had guns ready to kill me, but, oh no, no pressure there. I falsely assured him that I felt no pressure. I have always been interested in learning about Islam. But only so that I can understand the people I'm covering as a journalist.

Later on, this would come back to haunt me.

• • •

Meanwhile, the rest of the world was just beginning to hear about Jill Carroll's kidnapping. Journalists in Baghdad had learned of it minutes after it happened, but most held off on reporting the attack. The reason: the Monitor had asked the media to temporarily remain quiet about the crime.

As he hopped from airport to airport on his way into Baghdad, staff writer Scott Peterson had called Boston to add his voice to those of TV network executives and Baghdad reporters who were forcefully arguing for a news blackout. It was a question of Jill's safety and hostage value. If the kidnappers had made a mistake, and hadn't known they were snatching a young US female reporter, a blackout might provide them space to release her unharmed. If they had targeted her – a scenario that seemed more likely – the blackout might buy time for a quick negotiation, and make Jill seem less valuable.

More critically, a blackout might protect Jill if she was hiding her Arabic or lying to her kidnappers about her name or background.

The Western media who live in Baghdad are a tight group and consult on everything from security to parties; thus they're easy to reach en masse. On Jan. 7, managing editor Marshall Ingwerson sent them a formal request to sit on stories about Jill. From his small office off the Monitor newsroom, Mr. Ingwerson fielded a steady stream of inquiries.

"We'd prefer you not write," he told callers. "Most of your colleagues are respecting this blackout."

That was true – most did. Some helped enforce it, alerting the Monitor to isolated stories popping up on the Web.

But Jill wasn't quickly released. And after two days had passed, editors around the world began to grumble. The executive editor of the Associated Press contacted Ingwerson to argue it was time to go public.

Finally, the Monitor agreed. It issued a statement identifying Jill as a "freelance reporter." Her work for foreign publications, rather than her US clients, was emphasized. The point, again, was to lower her perceived value.

The blackout taught editors something about the degree of cooperation they could expect from media colleagues. Some hadn't expected it to last five minutes, yet it had lasted for days. Monitor editors began to formulate a plan – something strategic – for shaping Jill's image in the Middle East.

P.G.

***

Monday afternoon the kidnappers called me into the sitting room. Sitting against a wall was a man wearing a kaffiyeh – the traditional Arab men's headdress, made of checked fabric – wrapped around his head and face. All I could see were his ink-black eyes.

Ink Eyes addressed me in English. His voice had a familiar, gravelly quality.

"Are you happy here?" he asked. "Is everything OK?"

I knew that voice – it was the interpreter, the man who'd grilled me about my background in the initial hours of my captivity. I soon learned that he was more than an interpreter; he was their leader.

He went on to say that his group had kidnapped a French journalist a year earlier, and that she'd asked why she was treated so well. "So you'll say you were treated well when you go home," he'd told her.

Another shock – these were the men who'd taken Florence Aubenas. A French foreign correspondent for the paper Liberation, she was kidnapped in Baghdad in January 2005.

Well, at least she'd been released, though at the time I didn't know it was after a five-month ordeal.

Ink Eyes kept talking. "We need to make a video of you," he said. "We want your family to see this. We want to make them see you in a bad way so that they want to move quickly."

A vision flashed through my head: I was going to be one of those hostages surrounded by men with guns in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera. I'd always worried about becoming one of them.

Seeing my alarm, they said I didn't have to make the video if I didn't want to. I assured them I did want to. They were armed, I didn't want to know the consequences if I said no.

Then the man with the black eyes said, "Jill, where is your mobile [phone]? Yesterday, the American soldiers came very close, very close to this place where you were. Why did they do that?"

Again, they were accusing me of communicating with the US military. This was bad.

"I am the leader of this little group, and I'm a little more sophisticated than my friends here," he continued. "Do you have something in your body, something to send a signal to your government?"

Then he told me a story: He'd had a friend held at the US prison at Abu Ghraib. This friend claimed that Marines had given him medicine that put him to sleep, many times. After he got out, he went to the doctor, had an X-ray, and they'd found an electronic tracking device implanted in his body.

"If you have this in your body, tell me now and we'll go and take it out," Ink Eyes said, making a plucking gesture with his hand.

"No, I don't have this! I don't have this!" I nearly shouted through tears. "Bring a woman. We'll go in the bathroom right now, and I'll take all my clothes off and she can look at me and see that I don't have anything."

He waved his hand and said that wouldn't prove I didn't have a transmitter implanted in my body. Then he changed the subject, apparently letting go of the issue. Eventually, dinner for the men arrived – fish, an expensive treat in Iraq, in honor of me.

I left the room to go eat with the women and children. But it was clear that this suspicion was not going away.

After dinner they told me to put on a track suit they'd given me two days earlier and remove my head scarf. I wanted to wear my hijab if they were going to film me; they said no, they wanted to make my hair messy, make me look bad.

They brought me back into the sitting room, and men began filing in, carrying AK-47s and RPGs. They were cavalier about their weapons; one AK was lying on the ground, pointed right at me. I thought, "If that thing goes off, it's going to blow off my leg."

They were holding up a sheet, moving it here and there, trying to find the best light. There were maybe 10 men in the room, and each had an opinion; it was "no, no, no, here," and then "no, no, no, over here."

Ink Eyes had written up a short speech, but he wasn't going to deliver it. Abu Rasha, the man who'd fought soldiers the day before in Baghdad, was going to do it instead. He kept practicing it aloud; I didn't understand most of it, except for when he said "CIA."

Then the leader turned and coached me intently. I was to say that they were mujahideen fighting to defend their country, that they wanted women freed from Abu Ghraib prison, and the US military, particularly the Marines, were killing and arresting their women and destroying their houses.

And I must cry, on cue.

Abu Rasha donned a jumpsuit and wrapped his head in a kaffiyeh. Two others did the same. I sat down in front of them and the camera rolled.

I started to give my speech. Abu Ali standing behind the camera ran his fingers down his cheeks, to signal that I needed to cry.

It took me a while to work up to the crying part. But I had a lot of pent-up emotion and stress, and by the time we finished, I was crying for real. (Later, I learned that Al Jazeera only aired about 30 seconds – without audio – of that first four-minute tape. The tears were never broadcast.)

As the taping ended, I put my head down and I just kept crying. I heard Abu Rasha sigh behind me in a sympathetic way, like he felt bad, and some of the other men were making little noises like they felt bad that I was sitting there crying in front of them.

Ink Eye's reaction was different. He showed no sympathy. And I knew his opinion of me – my personal character – might make the difference in whether I lived or died.

He said, "We have to do this again."

He wanted me to cry more and talk longer, and say how the Marines were destroying things, destroying their homes.

They had a special enmity for the US Marines. What they didn't know – and I hoped they would never find out – was that I had been embedded with the Marines for five weeks in November and December.

Back then, the lieutenant of the platoon I was with had said that if anyone ever kidnapped me, a platoon of Marines would come to my rescue.

So, in the retake of the video I made a point of emphasizing the word "Marines." I said, "Their government isn't of the Iraqi people. It is a government brought by the American government and by the MARINES..."

I wanted them to know I was thinking of them. Come get me, guys. Please, come save me.

Next part: A mother as a suicide bomber.

Cast of captors

Abu Nour – Leader of Jill Carroll's kidnappers. Aka Ink Eyes. English/Arabic interpreter during her first day of captivity. Abu Nour is a nom de guerre. Abu means father, and in the Middle East it is followed by the first name of the oldest offspring: "Father of Nour."

Abu Rasha – Nom de guerre of No. 2 kidnapper. Boss of Carroll's guards. During her first night of captivity, she was kept at his house in Baghdad.

Abu Ali – Nom de guerre of man in charge of an insurgent cell under Abu Nour. Participated in Carroll's abduction. Has a stubble beard.

Um Ali – Wife of Ali. Guarded Carroll at all times in the three weeks of captivity.

Abu Hassan – Nom de guerre of No. 1 guard of Carroll. Trim, veteran.

Abu Qarrar – Nom de guerre of No. 2 guard of Carroll. Rotund, new recruit.

For a complete list of important people involved in this story, go to www.csmonitor.com/specials/carroll/cast/index.html.

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