Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 4: A mother as suicide bomber
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I talked with Um Ali and other women in the kitchen. Yes, I traveled back and forth between countries for my job, I said. They replied that it was wrong for them to work, that they left school at age 12 to learn to cook and keep house.Skip to next paragraph
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Then the dinner platters returned, with the food ravaged – rice everywhere, bones with the chicken chewed off, nothing left but scraps, really.
And the women sat and began to eat the scraps.
I couldn't believe it! After all the time they'd spent preparing the meal, they got leftovers.
But I sat down with them. And, as I would often do with women over the next three months, I ate from the remains of the communal stew.
• • •
It was a surreal experience. Alone in the Al Jazeera television studio, Jim Carroll stared at the camera, aware that at any moment it would switch on and broadcast his image around the world. He didn't want that image to be him scratching his nose, so he stayed unnaturally still as the minutes ticked away.
A day earlier, Mary Beth had appeared on CNN, making the family's first televised response to the kidnappers' demands. "They've picked the wrong person ... if they're looking for someone who is an enemy of Iraq," she said, adding to her scripted statement.
Now, it was Jim's turn.
Finally, after a quarter of an hour, the light blipped, and, on Jan. 20, Jill Carroll's father made his global TV debut. Live, for the 6:00 a.m. news feed in the Middle East.
"I want to speak directly to the men holding my daughter Jill because they also may be fathers like me...."
When he left the studio after finishing, the woman who had produced the shoot came up to him. Tears were running down her cheeks. "Bingo," thought Jim. His message appeared to have gotten through. Maybe other tears were running down other cheeks right now, in Iraq.
It had been a busy week. Three days ago, the first video of Jill as a hostage had appeared on Al Jazeera; she'd looked tired and stressed.
On the positive side, the video had been followed by an outpouring of statements calling for Jill's release, from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Iraq's Muslim Scholars Association, and Sunni political leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, among others. In Baghdad, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy had been on the phone working his contacts in the Arab world, tapping into a growing disapproval of insurgents taking innocent civilians.
Mr. Dulaimi perhaps was a particularly important catch. Jill had been seeking to interview him just prior to her abduction. Some Westerners in Baghdad suspected that he, or someone who worked in his office, had been involved in the crime.
Jim was worn out by the struggle over family statements. That had been intense. The FBI's position – that it was best the father talk strongly in a man-to-man manner – was the considered opinion of bureau counterterror experts, who'd tested it before focus groups of Arabs. Iraq was a male-dominated society, after all.
But the Monitor's correspondents in Baghdad, plus the British security firm there, thought that approach was culturally insensitive. Iraqi men revere their mothers, they insisted, so the first appeal should come from Mary Beth. And it should depict Jill, not as a lone adult, but as the missing piece of a family – another point they felt would appeal to Iraqi hearts.
In the end the family opted for the mother-first tactics. A day after Mary Beth's appearance, Jim made his own televised appeal, albeit with words watered down from the FBI's language. He appeared on both Al Jazeera, the most popular Arabic network, and its more reserved competitor, Al Arabiya.