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Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 4: A mother as suicide bomber

By Jill CarrollStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 17, 2006

Jillian Tamaki

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Exhausted, Jim Carroll walked the streets of Washington, headed back to his hotel. He'd hardly eaten all day, so he ducked into a bar for dinner. He hadn't been there long when his cellphone rang. It was the FBI. They wanted to know the family's decision.

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The previous day, Jan. 17, a video demanding the release of Iraqi women prisoners had aired on Al Jazeera. A 72-hour deadline was given.

This wasn't going to be pleasant. "We're not going your way," Jim told his FBI contact. "We're going to go with the sympathy statement."

What do you say to your daughter's kidnappers? It was a question Carroll felt woefully unqualified to answer. He was a software person, an entrepreneur, not a hostage negotiator. Insurgents had seized Jill Carroll in Baghdad 11 days ago; it was time for her parents to publicly plead for her life. But how? That was something on which experts – all well-meaning – couldn't agree.

The FBI wanted the father – him – to shake his fist, in essence; to go on TV and address the men who held Jill as murderers and thugs.

In Baghdad, Jill's colleagues at The Christian Science Monitor thought that would misfire in the Middle East. They said the words should reflect how much Jill's family loved and missed her. And the message should come from Jill's mother, Mary Beth.

Well, Jim and Mary Beth and Katie, Jill's twin sister, had been over this and over this and over it again. They couldn't thrash any more. Katie insisted that they should trust people Jill trusted; so be it. They'd go with the Monitor's Baghdad correspondents, and the softer appeal from her mother.

On the other end of the phone, Jim's FBI contact sounded very unhappy. He was polite, but clear: The bureau did not think this was a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

Jim hung up. He felt he was living in a new world, where you got 1 percent of the data you needed to make a decision, but it didn't matter; you had to decide anyway, you couldn't walk away, and you had to do it now, right now – and the price of a misstep might be a vibrant young woman's life.

Jill's life.

Despair billowed over him.

P.G.

***

As we stood in the small kitchen, Abu Ali, the insurgent with the salt-and-pepper beard who had abducted me, proudly declared that his wife wanted to die.

"Um Ali wants to be a martyr. She wants to drive a car bomb!" he said, beaming.

Of course, she'd have to wait, since she was now four months pregnant. It is forbidden in Islam to kill a fetus at that age, he explained.

"Oh, OK, OK, oh wow," I said. I feigned confusion while I tried to think of what to say.

The chaos of dinner preparation swirled around us. The kitchen was typically Iraqi: a cramped space with thin metal countertops that have no cabinets beneath.

Someone had sewed a skirt for the countertop out of gaudy fabric, but one part had torn away. Next to the refrigerator was a giant freezer, covered all over with stickers advertising Maggi-brand soups.

Three children played around our feet – all progeny of the would-be bomber.

I was still unused to captivity, still learning the boundaries, both physical and mental, that my kidnappers had imposed. I didn't want to offend. But I was shocked at the talk of a mother's suicide; shocked that Um Ali would blush at her husband's praise of this plan.

"Oh, I didn't know women could be car bombers," was all I could muster.

Later I was told that this was the only way women could be part of the mujahideen. The men could have the glory of fighting in battle. Women got to blow themselves up.

Meanwhile, the big silver platters of food were ready. Men carried them out to the group of insurgents meeting behind the closed door of the sitting room. Based on their comments, this house seemed to be in western Baghdad or near Abu Ghraib.

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