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Fox crew: Freed, forced to convert at gunpoint; “Halec” and “Yaco”…”Inshallah”

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 27, 2006 08:11 AM

***scroll for updates…Fox News Sunday interviewing Centanni…Allah with all the latest and the conversion vid (thanks to Rusty)…we’ve YouTubed the conversion video…embedded below…***

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Thank God. Fox News Channel reporting:

The two journalists were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials. A tearful Centanni embraced a Palestinian journalist briefly as he entered, then rushed upstairs as Wiig followed.

Centanni, in a phone interview shortly after his release, said “I’m fine. I’m just so happy to be free.”

He said he was so emotional because he was out and alive.

“There were times when I thought ‘I’m dead,’ and I’m not,” Centanni said. “I’m fine. I’m so very happy.”

He recounted how he and Wiig were pulled out of their car on August 14 and taken at gunpoint into another car. The kidnappers blindfolded them and handcuffed their hands behind their backs with plastic ties. They were then transferred to another car and driven to a building that they later learned was a garage.

“We were pushed down onto the dirt-covered concrete floor and we were forced to life face down with our handcuffs on,” Centanni said.

“Olaf was in the same room with me. Our shoulders were wrenched back, very painful.”

Both of the men were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, Centanni said.

“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni told FOX News. “Don’t get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

What the hell was going on? Associated Press reports:

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-Qaida or any other organization or faction,” Haniyeh said. “Al-Qaida 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.

On Sunday, before the journalists’ release, a new video was released, showing Wiig and Centanni dressed in beige Arab-style robes. Wiig, of New Zealand, delivered an anti-Western speech, his face expressionless and his tone halting. 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.

Last night, Allah reported that Debka fingered Hamas.

FoxNews.com has video of Centanni and Wigg, plus Roger Ailes, who calls the release a “tremendous relief.”

Johnny Dollar has video of Steve Centanni’s statement to the press. He thanked his friends at Fox News, friendly faces who helped welcome him home, American and New Zealand officials, and “Palestinian officials who are here today to welcome us back.”

I transcribed the key part:

I just hope this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover this story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world need to know more about and so do not be discouraged. Come and tell the story. It’s a wonderful story. I’m just happy to be here. Thanks for all your support.

After the press conference, questions were refused and the crew crossed into Israel.

Reader Stu C. writes:

“At some point, if the elation over the release is not accompanied by a demand for the PA to bring the criminals to justice, I suggest we will have a version of journalistic Stockholm Syndrome at hand — as if kidnapping is a mere recreational activity in the Gaza.”

Al Jazeera posts photos of the second video of Centanni and Wiig making their conversion statements, dressed in Arab robes:

The two men were shown separately, sitting cross-legged, reading statements announcing that they had converted to Islam.

Centanni said: “I changed my name to Khaled. I have embraced Islam and say the word Allah.”

Wiig called on leaders of the West to stop “hiding behind the ‘I don’t negotiate with terrorists’ myth”.

A separate statement from the captors said: “They chose Islam and that is a gift that God gives those whom he chooses.”

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Further details of the “conversion” tape:

In one scene, both men were shown eating.

“It is Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles made in America that kill the residents in Gaza,” Wiig said on the tape.

Their statements were punctuated on the tape with screens of written verse from the Koran, and scenes from Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq that was the site of abuse of Muslim prisoners by American soldiers.

More vid here. Ali Bubba liveblogged and posted this photo:

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Roger Ailes: “You know, the thing here is that journalists can’t be pawns in covering world stories. And more and more people are becoming aware that the journalists are there to do a job and they shouldn’t be used or misused or whatever when they’re covering these things. So maybe there’s a growing awareness of that.”

I dearly hope so. I’m just not sure that’s the message the kidnappers take away from this.

***

Well, I found the photo op the Palestinian government got out of this. Here it is, via WAFA, the Palestine News Agency:

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President Mahmoud Abbas received Sunday, in the Presidential HQ in Ramallah, the US Consul General in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles.

President briefed the Consul on the latest political developments in the Palestinian territory as well as the efforts which was exerted to release the two abducted journalists, correspondent Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36.

In a joint press conference with Head of PLO Negotiations department, Dr. Saeb Ereikat, Walles described his meeting with the President as “positive”.

Walles expressed, on the behalf of the American Administration and people, thanks to the President and security apparatus for their efforts during two weeks to release the journalists.

Debka analysis:

On the face of it, conversion to Islam would appear to provide a painless escape device for any hostage who happens to fall into fundamentalist terrorist hands. After all, once free, the hostage can always revert to his real faith or non-faith. It is hard to blame the two Fox News journalists, the American Steve Centanni, 60, and the New Zealander, Olaf Wiig, 36, for taking that path on to buy their way out of an uncertain fate at the hands of Palestinian terrorists – especially as they later reported they were forced to make the gesture at gunpoint.

And, indeed the two journalists were released from 13 days of captivity in Gaza three hours after announcing their conversion on a new videotape released by the kidnappers in Gaza.

Relief over the two journalists’ coming safely out of their ordeal is quite apart from considerations of the consequences for the war on terrorism. It must be said that the Palestinian kidnappers also walked away without suffering any harm and can keep on snatching victims without fear – exactly as the same terrorist gang got away with murdering three Americans in Gaza in 2003. In fact, the prime minister Ismail Haniya, who belongs to an Islamist terror group, was allowed to take credit for the release after winning a face saver in the form of the conversions and an anti-American diatribe.

Some further points are worth considering:

1. Shortly after Centanni and Wiig were snatched by masked gunmen in Gaza on Aug. 14, the various intelligence agencies operating in Gaza knew who the kidnapper was: the Palestinian warlord Zakaria Dughmush, who had been hired by the same Hamas group which on June 25 kidnapped and – is still holding – the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.

Dughmush is a former follower of the late Jemal Semhadana, head of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees who was killed in Rafah by rockets fired from an Israeli warplane on June 8, 2006. Semhadana was the first Palestinian terrorist to attack Americans. He staged the bombing attack of October 15, 2003 on a US embassy convoy from Tel Aviv as it drove past Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Three American security officers died in that attack.

After Semhadana’s death, his PRC fragmented into several small militias, one of them led by Dughmush, a fundamentalist freelance terrorist, who set up base in Gaza City. He was adopted by Hamas, but also draws funds and weapons from al Qaeda and Hizballah elements working together in the Gaza Strip.

Rick Moran: “[N]o matter what one’s politics, all Americans are held hostage when one of us falls into the hands of these thugs.”

Jules Crittenden: “This morning, two of my brothers have been delivered from captivity in Gaza.Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig are alive at the whim of their captors, and in the space of two weeks undoubtedly experienced the elevator-drop fear induced by that whim’s shifts.If you’ve read Jill Carroll’s account of her captivity, then you have an idea of what that is like. That is one of the extremes.”

***

Here is the conversion video:

Another photo op, via Allah:

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Cliff May: “I’m glad these guys are safe and free. I wish them well. But I hope there will be some attention paid by Fox and other media to the way in which kidnappings and similar threats coerce and intimidate journalists, and may influence their coverage.”

This story is far from over.

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