Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 9: The Muj brothers
Abu Qarrar was young, rotund, and seemed new to the mujahideen lifestyle. He hadn't memorized much of the Koran, unlike his more senior counterparts. He sometimes sneaked glances at the women on the music-video channels when he thought no one was looking.Skip to next paragraph
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To show off, he would run in place, then kick his right leg in the air and fling his arms forward in an awkward demonstration of kung fu.
Abu Hassan was older, athletic, and seething with devotion to jihad. He seemed a veteran fighter – although, like Abu Qarrar, he loved the "Cat and Mouse" cartoons. Yes, they watched "Tom and Jerry."
When he was bored – which was often – he'd use his cellphone to record himself giving fake fiery sermons standing at the top of the stairs as if on a mosque pulpit. Then he'd play them back, to hear how he'd sound if he were a famous imam.
These two men were my most constant guards. They reported to Abu Ahmed, one of Abu Nour's lieutenants. Abu Ahmed was an Islamic scholar who had just finished an Arabic translation of a Henry Kissinger biography and was reading 'How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.
The two guards weren't at every house where I was held, and others came and went even when they were present. But during my captivity I spent more time with them than anyone else. They were my up-close-and-personal examples of the rank and file of the Iraqi mujahideen.
Abu Qarrar and Abu Hassan were also starkly different people, despite the fact that they called each other "brother." In this, they were symbolic of the contrasts I saw in the larger group of mujahideen.
Some members were clever; others, not so much. Some seemed dangerous; most were devout. A few were sympathetic. A few were educated. At least one of the women appeared bitter about her lot in life.
As far as I knew, all were native Iraqis.
As the weeks of my captivity turned into months, Abu Qarrar and Abu Hassan became tense and unhappy. They were bored with guard duty and tired of inaction. They became more petty and controlling toward me.
Meanwhile, I was increasingly desperate, fearful, and angry. I felt I was beginning to lose my self-control.
The result was conflict between me and the Muj Brothers which, if not for the context, might have seemed adolescent. We couldn't let little slights go. We were like animals in a cage, locked in all together.
The Feb. 26 deadline tied to the third video came and went. The kidnappers didn't call. They didn't write. They issued no new demands. But public interest in Jill Carroll's plight didn't flag. The Monitor's Team Jill had adopted a strategy early on to take a low-key US media response. They followed the advice of experts who had analyzed The Wall Street Journal's efforts to free Daniel Pearl after he was kidnapped in Pakistan: ignore the Western media, focus on Iraqi media. The kidnappers and ordinary Iraqis who might generate tips won't be watching Larry King.
Still, Jill's abduction struck a remarkable global chord. There was a series of "Free Jill" rallies in Paris. A giant poster of her was hung from the city hall in Rome. Students at the University of Massachusetts (where Jill went to school) and at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (where Jill grew up) held rallies and candlelight vigils. Thousands sent donations to a fund set up to support the family of Alan, Jill's Iraqi interpreter. A jazz song was composed in her honor. Paintings and poems were sent to the Monitor offices. And prayers were said at hundreds of churches, mosques, and synagogues around the United States.
A 45-year-old man from Fremont, Calif., was one of half a dozen Americans who offered to take Jill's place. "I would like to emphasize the fact that I am definitely not suicidal nor would I relish having my life cut short....
"I'm offering myself as a replacement for her as a hostage or even as a potential martyr for her outstanding work as a balanced and compassionate journalist," he wrote.
Abu Qarrar claimed to have been part of the team that abducted me, but if he was, I didn't see him. I do remember that he was the guard who sat outside the door of my bedroom on the first night I was held.
After all, he was hard to miss, with a girth that advertised his eating habits and a tattoo of Arabic writing on his inner left arm.