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Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 5: Mujahideen movies

By Jill CarrollStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 18, 2006



One afternoon in the first week after I'd been taken – and been moved to yet another house near Abu Ghraib – Abu Ali called me into a big sitting room with green velveteen couches. On the far wall, above the TV, was a gigantic poster of waterfalls and rocks and trees.

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It was beautiful. I could stare at it and get lost. I thought, I wish I was there, I wish I was there.

But my captors wanted me to look at something very different: DVDs of them waging war.

By their count, they were killing dozens or even hundreds of soldiers a day. They estimated that Al Qaeda in Iraq had killed at least 40,000 US soldiers. They could prove it, they said, with videos of their operations showing Humvees and tanks blowing up and snipers shooting soldiers.

So Abu Ali – the captor with a stubbly beard – sat me down and showed me the videos. They were in Arabic and were stamped with the symbols of various insurgent groups, and included audio overlays of mujahideen chanting in low, somber tones.

One video showed all these men who were going to be suicide car bombers. They interviewed them, and then showed a field, with cars lined up, and each man getting into a car – waving, just euphoric – and then driving off.

Others had pictures of an American Humvee driving along – and then it would blow up, and they'd cut to a graphic of a lightning flash, and thunder clapping.

Abu Ali would glance over at me as I watched the videos, asking me what I thought of them. I couldn't say anything good, but I tried to say things that were true, like "Oh, this is the first time I've ever seen this. I didn't know this was out there."

To Abu Ali, though, this was their mission, a righteous path; this was their work for God.

While I sat there watching them, I felt the insurgents were sending me a message: They hate Americans so much, they're proud of these attacks. It's normal to them.

Surely they were going to kill me. How could they not?

***

The first set of phone-recording equipment that the FBI brought to Jim Carroll's North Carolina home didn't work. A second set, shipped in from the Charlotte office, didn't work either. Eventually, agents assigned to the Jill Carroll case got the standard wiretap electronics in place.

From the beginning, the FBI identified Jim as someone who could handle hostage negotiations. He received rudimentary training in what to do if contacted: Keep talking, keep them on the phone, try to set a time for a call back.

But no one was sure which numbers Jill would remember and pass along to her jailers. So taps were readied for a number of phones. If the kidnappers called, the FBI would use the recording to try to identify them and their location.

In Baghdad, Monitor staff writer Scott Peterson put a piece of climbing tape on one of his phones, and drew on it a green eye, to remind him which line the government was watching. He and staff writer Dan Murphy were pursuing their own leads with Iraqi sources and seeking the help of Sunni politicians known to have insurgent contacts.

Between them, Messrs. Peterson and Murphy could draw on decades of experience working in dangerous environments. As a reporter and photographer, Peterson's hot-spot assignments stretched from Angola to Afghanistan. In 1993, he took a machete blow to the head from a mob that killed four journalists in Somalia. Later, he was one of the very few correspondents to enter the Rwandan capital, Kigali, when the genocide began.

Murphy lived for 10 years in Indonesia, where he covered sectarian violence and became one of the world's experts on Al Qaeda's operations in Southeast Asia. In Baghdad, he'd been one of Jill's mentors.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Monitor enlisted the help of Faye Bowers, a recently retired Washington correspondent with extensive contacts in the dark world of intelligence. She had been instrumental in the negotiations to release Monitor reporter David Rohde, who was jailed by Bosnian Serbs for 10 days in 1995 and won a Pulitzer for stories revealing the first evidence of the Srebrenica massacre.

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