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Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category

Part 7 • False hopes

How the insurgency operates and views the world. Five Iraqi women are released but Jill must make another video.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor
(J.C.) It was late January the next time we moved. Hot and tired of traveling, I threw up all over myself. They didn’t know that I’d always been prone to car sickness.

“Do you need a doctor? Are you sick? We can bring you a doctor,” said Abu Rasha, my No. 2 captor, who was driving. Again and again, I saw that their beliefs would allow them to deprive me of my freedom and kill Alan, yet also lead them to express sincere concern over my health and well-being as their hostage.

When we finally came to a stop I was led, stinking, into a new house – the sixth place I’d been, in the three weeks I’d been held. It wouldn’t take much to prompt a move: a helicopter overhead, wild dogs barking at night, a US patrol in the vicinity. At the time, I thought the house was south of Baghdad. The US military now says it was near Abu Ghraib.

Once inside, they steered me directly into the bathroom, and I stripped off my soiled clothes.

The house was so new that the mujahideen were still building it around me. No family lived here. This was a house built by Abu Nour, my lead captor, solely for the use of the mujahideen. It was a meeting house, a bomb factory, and, for me, a jail.

In my head, I called it “the clubhouse.”

Here there were no women and children to serve as buffers between me and my captors – or to witness my eventual fate.

I’d felt some measure of safety in the presence of the mujahideen families. That might have been an illusion. In any case, now it was gone.

As the weeks of my captivity accumulated, I felt physical and mental stress begin to mount.

The inactivity was claustrophobic. The psychological poking and prodding of my captors – who knew so little about Americans that they were shocked I wasn’t blond – sometimes made me feel like an animal in a zoo.

Constant adrenaline crashed up against chronic fatigue. I’d lie down at night, and my eyes would feel swollen. I’d close my eyelids and it would seem as if they weren’t big enough to go around my eyeballs.

Sometimes I would think about people back home and I would feel a little better. My grandparents are Catholic and they go to Mass every day. I would figure what time it was in the US and would think, “I bet they’re praying for me right now. I bet they’re saying, ‘Let’s pray for our granddaughter, Jill Carroll.’ “

If it was early morning in America, I would imagine my mom, dad, and twin sister, Katie, waking up. If it was a little later I would think, “They’re having their morning meeting at the Monitor. Maybe they’re talking about me.”

That was my only escape.

At first in the clubhouse, I was happy to sit alone in my bedroom and not be bothered.

Between moments of terror, throughout my captivity were long hours doing nothing. Here, I didn’t want to look around the room too much, because I wanted to save the newness, and the interest of looking at new things as long as I could. After fear, boredom was my tormentor, my constant enemy.

I’d think, “I’m going to spend today looking at the heater. And then tomorrow, I’ll sit in a different part of the room, and it’ll look different.” I’d stare at flies for hours.

It sounds crazy now, but then it seemed normal. If you looked at everything all at once, it became familiar and boring really fast.

I sang camp songs to myself, and songs that Mom used to sing to me. I spun fantasies of US marines rescuing me. I ruminated over old boyfriends and choices I’d made. I deeply questioned my decision to come to Iraq. I had devoted a year in Jordan to studying Arabic and working at an English-language newspaper, slowly learning my craft. For what? To spend my last days under the thumb of the bleepin’ muj? If I ever got out, I decided I’d never leave the US again.

At night, I would think hard about Katie, sending her mental messages: ‘I’m OK. Don’t worry. Can you feel me, Katie?’ In my head, I’d write letters to Dad, in North Carolina, telling him about my days. I’d imagine him hugging me and hugging me in the doorway, telling me everything was OK.

I spent a lot of time staring at my toes, and wondering if I was slowly going around the bend.

After several days at the clubhouse, the guards asked me if I wanted to watch them make dinner. Then they let me watch a little TV. Eventually, they let me pace the length of the house, about 15 steps, and help wash dishes and prepare meals. I was overjoyed with these activities after so many hours spent doing nothing.

(Photograph)
THE CLUBHOUSE: This house near Abu Ghraib was one of at least six locations where Jill Carroll was kept hostage. The US military says soldiers raided it in May.
View interior photos of ‘the clubhouse’ in our interactive map.

US MARINE CORPS

Access to sunlight became the most important new benefit, though. It poured into the sparse sitting room where my guards slept and where we all ate.

I was desperate for light after painful days in dim rooms in the Abu Ghraib house with my now-departed female minder, Um Ali. I had been handed off to a different cell under Abu Nour, to a different set of guards.

One of the guards at this new house, who had himself spent time in prison, seemed to understand the way I felt. One morning before breakfast, he tied back the thin curtains.

“Sun,” he said smiling and gesturing at the bright streams pouring in through the etched glass windows.

I sat on the ground in the sunbeam and closed my eyes. It penetrated my eyelids and warmed my face.

By this point, I had learned much about the way the mujahideen operated. To me, at least, some of their tactics were surprisingly clever.

Take transportation. Men with beards, and cars with only one or two men, drew too much attention from patrols and at checkpoints. So they shaved their beards and drove around as families, kids and women included. They played Shiite music. As insurgents, they knew how to not look like an insurgent.

(Photograph)
ILLUSTRATION BY JILLIAN TAMAKI

They have the home-field advantage. As Abu Nour, the leader, told me more than once: “I can go out, plant my bomb, and go back and have a homemade dinner with my wife. What are American soldiers going to do? They go back [to their base] and do not have good food or get to see their family.”

Abu Nour (“Ink Eyes”) began coming to see me almost every day. Clearly, he felt freer to visit the clubhouse than the other places I’d been held. It was during one of these visits that he’d mentioned Margaret Hassan, and I’d hysterically begged for the guards to use a gun to kill me, not a knife.

At the clubhouse, he also appeared eager to have me “interview” him (see story). He seemed to have begun to view me as a messenger – an idea I had been pushing, hoping it would give them a reason to set me free.

My hands always shook when I did these “interviews.” Like all interactions with my captors, they felt like mine fields, or chess games.

Among other things, Abu Nour said that some people joined the mujahideen because they were angry about the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison or raids on their homes at night. Many enlisted following a battle they considered a great victory – the April 2004 fight for Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province.

Abu Nour added that too many of these new recruits had impure motives. That, he said, is why they lost Fallujah to US forces in November 2004.

“A good mujahid enters the war so [that] if he dies he goes to heaven,” Abu Nour insisted.

Secular insurgents were useful allies, but wouldn’t be allowed to take part in the Iraqi government after the mujahideen’s final victory, he said. Sunni politicians participating in the current US-backed government were traitors to Islam and should be killed.

My captors would laugh, for example, when Adnan al-Dulaimi would appear on TV – either when he was pleading for my release or as part of a group of politicians trying to form a new government. I had gone to interview Mr. Dulaimi when they seized me in front of his political headquarters in Baghdad.

[In a press conference on Jan. 20, Dulaimi said: “By kidnapping her, you are insulting me. You’re insulting the work that I’ve been doing for Iraq…. release her….” Nine days later he issued another tearful public appeal for Jill’s release, which was featured in the Monitor’s Iraqi media campaign in February and March.]

(Photograph)
ADNAN AL-DULAIMI: The Iraqi politician on Jan. 20 at a press briefing calling for Jill Carroll’s release.
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

“Look, Jill. Ha, ha. There’s your ‘friend’ Dulaimi,” they scoffed each time he appeared. “Oh, please, please free Jill! Ha, ha, ha, ha.” They mocked him.

Within minutes of my capture, I had suspected Dulaimi, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni political party. The kidnappers were waiting for us when we left his office. They must have known about my appointment ahead of time.

During one of these talks at the “clubhouse,” Abu Nour said that Dulaimi had been to see him that week. Dulaimi had begged Ink Eyes to let me go. Later, the guards told me that Dulaimi had been back again. Dulaimi said, “Please, please let her go. The [US] soldiers are threatening to arrest my sons. Tell me where Jill is. Let her go.” (See related story)

My captors were angry about being labeled “terrorists.” But the deaths of innocent people caused by their activities – such as the murder of my interpreter, Alan Enwiya – didn’t taint the purity of their jihad.

“Sometimes when we try to hit the American soldier or Iraqi soldier, sometimes we kill women and children in this operation,” said Abu Nour at one point. “We don’t want to …, but this is war.”

Periodically, Abu Nour would tell me people were calling for my release. He would never say whether this was good or bad.

Throughout my ordeal, my captors would make oblique references to what I later discovered were organized appeals on my behalf. For example, Abu Nour wanted to know if I knew the leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. I thought it was another test of my character. Later, I learned Hamas had issued a statement condemning the kidnapping of civilians.

When my father and mother made their first televised statements, Abu Rasha said, “Your father and mother say, ‘Hello’ to you.”

“Very good man, good man, your father,” he said.

It was clear that whatever my parents had said on TV had made a good impression.

One day Abu Nour arrived, and said that five women detainees had been released. This was important, and good news, he said.

(Photograph)
GOING HOME: Two of the five Iraqi women released from a Bagdhad detention center were driven home on Jan. 26. US officials said the release was not related to the demands of Jill’s captors.
Hadi Mizban/AP

“This is Step 1,” he said. “Now we have to go to Step 2.”

He wanted me to make another video, and ask for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners.

I was crushed. Another video meant days or weeks of waiting for it to air, then waiting for a reply. The black-eyed leader – someone who I thought never saw me as a person, despite the chocolates he brought from Baghdad – now thought he had something really valuable. The last thing they were going to do was let me go.

It wasn’t until later that I figured the release of the five women had helped by making it harder to justify killing me.

(P.G.) Five Iraqi female detainees were released on Jan. 26, along with some 450 male prisoners. While US officials denied this was in response to Jill’s captors’ demands, her family saw it as a hopeful sign.

But four days later, Jill’s twin sister, Katie, got a disturbing call from Amelia Newcomb, deputy foreign editor, who served as the Monitor’s liaison to the family. The kidnappers had released another video, said Newcomb; and on this one Jill was crying.

Immediately Katie assumed the worst – that this was evidence her sister was being mistreated. She snapped on her television, and, indeed, saw a picture of a sobbing Jill. And in an instant, she felt much better.

Jill was faking, Katie thought.

She knew her sister. She knew that when Jill really cried it was like the Nile at the crest of a flood. The tears would come so hard, Jill wouldn’t even be able to see, if she didn’t wipe them away.

But this was different. This was … restrained. Maybe the kidnappers were coaching Jill. Maybe she wasn’t being physically mistreated.

Katie wasn’t the only family member to take heart from the ostensibly disturbing video. Mary Beth Carroll didn’t think her daughter was crying, either. Clearly, Jill was being fed – her cheeks weren’t sunken – and she was dressed in a neat hijab, which seemed in some manner a token of respect.

Nine days later, a third video of Jill appeared on a Kuwaiti television station. This time, for the first time, her voice could be heard. “I am with the mujahideen,” she said. “I sent you a letter written by my hand, but you wanted more evidence, so we are sending you this letter now to prove I am with the mujahideen.”

On Feb. 10, a day later, the owner of the Kuwaiti television station said that sources close to the kidnappers had told him there was a Feb. 26 deadline. Two whole weeks! The US had that long to release all Iraqi women from its prisons, or else. To Mary Beth, that meant Jill’s safety was guaranteed for the next 16 days.

The day after the video came out, Mary Beth woke up in a good mood. After the daily worries she and the rest of the family had experienced, this was almost like being on vacation, she thought.

 

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Part 5 • Mujahideen movies

Jill discovers these are hardcore Islamic militants who follow Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

 

(J.C.) 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.

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

(Photograph)
AL QAEDA IN IRAQ: About a week into her captivity, Jill was shown videos of attacks like this one on July 21, 2003 in Baghdad.
MANISH SWARUP/AP

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?

(P.G.) 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.

At Ms. Bowers’s request, US officials also contacted important Sunnis in Iraq, and pushed them to do all they could to secure Jill’s release. Jordanian and European officials, particularly the Germans, provided context about their own efforts to free hostages in Iraq. And an army of Bowers’s contacts, many of them ex-spies, scrolled through their memories, searching for old friends and contacts in the Arab world who might help.

(J.C.) At the beginning of my ordeal, I had hoped my kidnappers were amateurs who wouldn’t really know what to do with me and would start to get very nervous after a few days. Then they’d let me go.

(Photograph)
ZARQAWI: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi spoke in a rare video of him posted on the Web on April 25, 2006.
REUTERS

I knew they were Iraqis, which was good. It was the foreign-born insurgents – such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who beheaded hostages.

They seemed a small group, and they told me they had come together and forged their identity fighting the US military for control of the restive city of Fallujah in a Sunni- dominated area west of Baghdad.

But after about a week in captivity – about the time of the showing of the jihadi videos – it became increasingly clear to me that they were the real deal.

During the precious few hours when the electricity worked, they would sometimes plug in a cassette player, and an angry voice would blare in classical Arabic from the room across the hall, where the guards slept.

I usually only understood a few words, like “America,” “Israel,” and “occupation,” but the point was clear.

“Do you know who that is?” one of the guards asked me at one point. “That is Sheikh Abu Musab. Is he a good man? What is your opinion of Zarqawi?”

I dodged the question. But inside, I felt the fear welling up. These were Zarqawi people! I was an American. I thought again, there was no way I was getting out of this alive.

(P.G.) Perhaps the knowledge of what would happen to Khalid if he disappeared into the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior was what did it. Sitting on a bed in the Monitor’s Baghdad apartment, he finally broke down.

“I knew you wouldn’t believe me if I told you the truth!” he sobbed.

(Photograph)
KEEPING TRACK: The white board used by editors at the Christian Science Monitor to track their efforts to release hostage Jill Carroll.
JOHN NORDELL – STAFF

By this point, Khalid (not his real name) had worked for the Monitor and other media organizations as an interpreter, on and off, for a year-and-a-half. He was a gentle soul, thin and nervous in a birdlike way. He’d come via recommendation from someone in the Coalition Provisional Authority, back when that still existed, and Murphy liked working with him. He was interested in the way that religion and politics fit together, as was Murphy himself.

And for days now, Khalid had said he had a source – two separate sources, actually – who knew where Jill was.

The information – revealed in dribs and drabs over time – was detailed in a way that made it sound credible. It even jibed with other leads coming in. She was being held, allegedly, in Al Adl – the same neighborhood where she was kidnapped and a part of the city known to be rife with insurgents. There were two teams that took turns guarding her, each composed of three men. The house was detached, and the opening in its surrounding wall was a white metal gate – sheet metal, not bars, and streaked with dirt. Behind the gate sat the Monitor driver’s maroon Toyota with a broken window and bullet holes in the side.

The Monitor’s Baghdad team had passed this information along, and the Hereford, England-based security firm hired by the newspaper sent an Iraqi employee into the neighborhood to eyeball possible houses. He found four or five.

But then one of Khalid’s sources went out of town. And his story began to change. Maybe the gate was … black.

What was going on? Late one night, a colonel from the Iraqi Interior Ministry arrived to interview Khalid in Arabic. The colonel was a busy man; he talked to the interpreter a bit, then left on other business. But he made himself clear: At this point, if Khalid didn’t name his source, Khalid would have to come in to the ministry.

He didn’t have to say that bad things happened at the ministry, even to good people.

Khalid was shaken. Murphy, too, was concerned. He sat beside him, and gently asked, again, for the real story. And finally it came out.

His wife had visions, said Khalid. They’re painful and difficult for her, he said, but it’s a gift. She’d warned him not to get involved, but he’d wanted to help. He’d given his wife one of Jill’s cherry-tinted hairs from a hair band which he’d secretly taken from the office. She’d been the one who “saw” where Jill was. Khalid believed her. But he knew Murphy and Peterson wouldn’t.

The reporters were stunned. For weeks now, they’d been pursuing this lead. Now, it seemed, they had been sending people into dangerous neighborhoods based on the musings of a clairvoyant.

From the beginning, investigative tracks dealing with Jill’s possible whereabouts gave the family and her employers a sense of hope and momentum.

Excerpts from readers’ letters
(Photograph)
ORIGAMI: Fourth graders at St. Anthony Catholic School in Boston folded 246 paper cranes for Jill Carroll.
ASHLEY TWIGGS

What they didn’t provide, in the end, was Jill. Leads dried up. Sources disappeared. Demands for ransom turned out to be attempts at extortion.

The curious case of the clairvoyant was perhaps the most extreme example of where tracks went. But it wasn’t unique. Other sources claimed to have a video taken on a cellphone – and described her in detail.

Notes scribbled daily on legal pads by managing editor Marshall Ingwerson give a sense of the rise and fall of these efforts.

From 1/11/06: “New lead. HWG [the US Embassy’s Hostage Working Group] onworking. Source is someone we’ve worked with before … contradictory to [The New York Times’s Dexter] Filkins lead….”

From 1/14/06: “2 tracks still in play. Filkins update: By chance his sources – guard at racetrack saw her yesterday while she was being transferred….”

From 1/19/06: “No more on Dexter’s track. Contradictory info on [Scott Peterson’s] track.”

From 1/20/06: “Dexter track definitely dead….”

One morning, the British security man under contract to the Monitor told Murphy and Peterson that the body of a Western woman had been found in Baghdad. Police were checking the morgue. The two reporters kept the information to themselves, tensely awaiting verification. The report proved untrue.

While the leads were thin, the public support poured in. The Monitor would post on its website a daily selection of e-mails and letters from Jill Carroll supporters of all faiths, and all walks of life. During some of the darkest nights, Mary Beth Carroll would go to her computer and draw some comfort from the strangers’ missives.

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