20 October 2005

Abducted Guardian journalist is freed

Guardian

Ewen MacAskill and Angelique Chrisafis
Friday October 21, 2005
The Guardian

Rory Carroll, the Guardian journalist kidnapped in Baghdad on Wednesday, was freed last night. Carroll phoned the Guardian to confirm that he had been released from an underground cell.

The end came when one of his captors received a mobile phone call and unbolted the door to the cell, telling him he was free to go. "He put me in the boot of his car and drove me alone and dropped me in the middle of Baghdad," Carroll said.

Last night he was under the protection of the Iraqi government in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Carroll, 33, who has been in Iraq for nine months, had been in Sadr City, a Shia-dominated district of Baghdad on Wednesday, interviewing a victim of Saddam Hussein. He was snatched by gunmen as he was leaving the home of the interviewee.

"They took me in a car and after 20 minutes switched me to the boot of another one. They stripped me of all my own clothes and dressed me in old clothes."

He said he had been handcuffed and held in a darkened room beneath a family home in Baghdad for 36 hours. He did not know who was responsible, but suspected it had been an opportunistic, criminal gang. "It was a darkened room, a concrete passageway beneath the ground floor. I only had a rug and pillow. They allowed me out twice for food."

Speaking about his release last night, he said: "I heard a captor in the corridor answer his mobile. He laughed and sounded relieved and opened the bolted door and said, 'I am going to let you go'."

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said: "We're overjoyed that Rory has been released safe and sound. We'd like to thank all those in London, Dublin and Iraq who played a role in freeing him. Both the British and Irish governments have been extremely helpful - as have many journalistic colleagues around the world and sympathetic groups and individuals in Baghdad."

Lara Marlowe, the Irish Times correspondent in Baghdad, told the Irish state broadcaster RTE that a few of Rory's friends had gathered in his office in his hotel, waiting for a phone call from him. She said he was at the office of a senior government minister having a beer. "It is a huge relief, everyone here is happy and celebrating his freedom."

The news brought enormous relief to the Carroll family in Dublin 24 hours after the sickening realisation of their son's kidnapping.

"Last night we were in the depths of despondency, we can't believe 24 hours later we're getting news Rory is being released," said Joe Carroll, Rory's father.

Mr Carroll said the family, who live in Blackrock, south Dublin, had been helped by tremendous support from friends and the Irish people. He added that it was his wife Kathy's birthday today. "It's the most wonderful birthday she's ever had," he said.

Mrs Carroll said she hoped her son would come home soon. "We were very, very impressed by the government initiative that they were going to send a team out, it was incredible. We're very grateful," she said.

Carroll's release came after intense diplomatic pressure and he attributed his freedom to the intervention of the Iraqi government.

A campaign had been building up in support of Carroll, an Irish citizen. Muslims, Catholic and Protestant clerics, as well as the Irish and British governments had called for and worked for his freedom.

Last night, Irish foreign minister Dermot Ahern, said: "I am utterly delighted for Rory Carroll and his family." Ireland had been planning to send a five-person delegation to Iraq to try to locate him.

The Iranian government had also issued a rare plea on his behalf, calling for his immediate release. The government, whose relations with the US and Britain have been more strained than usual during the past few months, had offered its prayers for his safe release.

But the press section of the Iranian embassy in London had issued a statement deploring the abduction. "Iran has always condemned such acts of violence, which is detrimental to the stability of neighbouring

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent cleric based in Qatar, said the Union of Islamic Scholars, which he presides over, "has always denounced these kidnappings, especially those carried out against journalists". He said he had "always maintained that such acts are rejected in Islam" and that "they inflict enormous harm on Iraq's just cause".

He added: "The Guardian newspaper is well-known for its professional reporting and its fair coverage of the rights of oppressed peoples and just causes around the world."

Inayat Bunglawala, a representative of the Muslim Council of Britain, had joined the calls. "All leading Islamic authorities have made it clear that kidnapping journalists is unhelpful and harmful to the Iraqi people," he said.

"The Guardian is deeply respected within the British Muslim community for its balanced coverage of the Middle East and for providing a platform for a range of voices."

Dr Azzam Tamimi, a representative of the Muslim Association of Britain, had called for Carroll's release on al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite network based in Qatar.

"The Guardian is specifically known for its fair and professional coverage of war and just causes around the world and its deep and serious criticism of invasion of Iraq," he said.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, Iraqi journalists held an impromptu memorial service yesterday for Muhammad Haroon, 37, the editor of al-Hakeka newspaper, who was killed by unknown gunmen on Monday.

Haroon's paper had been critical of the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition's presence in Iraq.


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