2 Fox News Journalists Released

This video image shows Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, of the U.S., after he was released from captivity in the Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 27 2006. Two Fox News journalists, Centanni and Olaf Wiig, 36, were released Sunday nearly two weeks after being seized by militants, ending the longest-running drama involving foreign hostages in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/ APTN) TV OUT AP Photo

Two Fox News journalists were released Sunday, nearly two weeks after being seized by militants, ending the longest-running drama involving foreign hostages in the Gaza Strip.

Cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, and correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, were dropped off at Gaza City's Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials. A tearful Centanni briefly embraced a Palestinian journalist in the lobby, then rushed upstairs. Wiig walked into the lobby behind Centanni, briefly turned when someone pulled him by the arm and shouted "get off" before heading upstairs.

Centanni later told Fox News in a phone call from Gaza City that during his capture, he was held at times face down in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions, and that he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to make statements, including that they had converted to Islam.

"I'm a little emotional because this is overwhelming, but I'm fine," Centanni said. "I'm so happy to be freed."

Centanni maintained a sense of humor about the ordeal, at one point noting that he previously did not know the Arabic word for water. "I do now," he said.

During a brief press conference, both Centanni and Wiig expressed hope that journalists would not abandon their attempts to cover events in the Gaza Strip. "Don't be discouraged," Centanni said. "Come and tell the story, it's a wonderful story."

Wiig pleaded to the Palestinian people: "Your story doesn't get very well told because it's difficult to work here. You guys need us on the streets."

The journalists had been seized in Gaza City on Aug. 14 by a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades. However, senior Palestinian security officials said Sunday the name was a front for local militants, and that Palestinian authorities had known the identity of the kidnappers from the start.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh dismissed speculation that the kidnappers had ties to foreign groups. "The kidnappers have no link to al Qaeda or any other organization or faction," Haniyeh said. "Al Qaeda as an organization does not exist in the Gaza Strip."

The Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza militant group, claimed Sunday it had helped mediate the release of the journalists.

The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has insisted it had no clue about the identity of the kidnappers.

However, in recent days, Hamas government officials signaled that the release of the journalists was imminent and that they had won assurances from the kidnappers the hostages were being treated well.

The kidnappers, meanwhile, released new video of Wiig and Centanni Sunday. In a written statement attached to the video, the kidnappers claimed the two men had converted to Islam.

In one segment of the footage, Wiig is seen sitting cross-legged on the floor, dressed in a beige robe and reading from crumpled notes, delivering an anti-Western speech. He also read out an Islamic blessing in Arabic, his fingers following the written text.

"The people of Gaza have suffered for many years in what is effectively a prison camp," he said in a halting voice, his face expressionless. "They have not been free to come and go. Some say this was all started because of 9/11, and of course that wasn't true.

"It is Apache helicopters firing hellfire missiles made in America that kill the residents of Gaza. America and George Bush are seen as being evil in some people's eyes in this part of the world," Wiig said. "It it's time that the leaders of the West listen to the people, take notice of the millions protesting in the streets, stop hiding behind the `I don't negotiate with terrorists' myth."

In another segment, Centanni said he has converted to Islam and raised his index finger in an oath of allegiance to the religion.

Several hours later, the two men were dropped off at Gaza City's Beach Hotel, wearing Western-style clothing. Their captors had demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. by midnight Saturday in exchange for freeing the journalists. It was not immediately clear whether the kidnappers received anything in return for freeing the journalists.

In the past two years, Palestinian militants have seized more than two dozen foreigners, usually to settle personal scores, but released them unharmed within hours. The holding of the Fox journalists had been the longest.
  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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