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Part 4 : A mother as suicide bomber

As Jill’s parents make a televised plea, she learns of the zeal of women and children in the Iraqi insurgency.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor


(P.G.) Exhausted, Jim Carroll walked the streets of Washington, headed back to his hotel. He’d hardly eaten all day, so he ducked into a bar for dinner. He hadn’t been there long when his cellphone rang. It was the FBI. They wanted to know the family’s decision.

The previous day, Jan. 17, a video demanding the release of Iraqi women prisoners had aired on Al Jazeera. A 72-hour deadline was given.

This wasn’t going to be pleasant. “We’re not going your way,” Jim told his FBI contact. “We’re going to go with the sympathy statement.”

What do you say to your daughter’s kidnappers? It was a question Carroll felt woefully unqualified to answer. He was a software person, an entrepreneur, not a hostage negotiator. Insurgents had seized Jill Carroll in Baghdad 11 days ago; it was time for her parents to publicly plead for her life. But how? That was something on which experts – all well-meaning – couldn’t agree.

The FBI wanted the father – him – to shake his fist, in essence; to go on TV and address the men who held Jill as murderers and thugs.

In Baghdad, Jill’s colleagues at The Christian Science Monitor thought that would misfire in the Middle East. They said the words should reflect how much Jill’s family loved and missed her. And the message should come from Jill’s mother, Mary Beth.

Well, Jim and Mary Beth and Katie, Jill’s twin sister, had been over this and over this and over it again. They couldn’t thrash any more. Katie insisted that they should trust people Jill trusted; so be it. They’d go with the Monitor’s Baghdad correspondents, and the softer appeal from her mother.

On the other end of the phone, Jim’s FBI contact sounded very unhappy. He was polite, but clear: The bureau did not think this was a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

Jim hung up. He felt he was living in a new world, where you got 1 percent of the data you needed to make a decision, but it didn’t matter; you had to decide anyway, you couldn’t walk away, and you had to do it now, right now – and the price of a misstep might be a vibrant young woman’s life.

Jill’s life.

Despair billowed over him.

(J.C.) As we stood in the small kitchen, Abu Ali, the insurgent with the salt-and-pepper beard who had abducted me, proudly declared that his wife wanted to die.

Um Ali wants to be a martyr. She wants to drive a car bomb!” he said, beaming.

Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi: She shows how explosives were strapped to her body, which failed to go off when she and three men entered a Jordanian hotel on Nov. 9, 2005. Related story: Women suicide bombers in Iraq.

Of course, she’d have to wait, since she was now four months pregnant. It is forbidden in Islam to kill a fetus at that age, he explained.

“Oh, OK, OK, oh wow,” I said. I feigned confusion while I tried to think of what to say.

The chaos of dinner preparation swirled around us. The kitchen was typically Iraqi: a cramped space with thin metal countertops that have no cabinets beneath.

Someone had sewed a skirt for the countertop out of gaudy fabric, but one part had torn away. Next to the refrigerator was a giant freezer, covered all over with stickers advertising Maggi-brand soups.

Three children played around our feet – all progeny of the would-be bomber.

I was still unused to captivity, still learning the boundaries, both physical and mental, that my kidnappers had imposed. I didn’t want to offend. But I was shocked at the talk of a mother’s suicide; shocked that Um Ali would blush at her husband’s praise of this plan.

“Oh, I didn’t know women could be car bombers,” was all I could muster.

Later I was told that this was the only way women could be part of the mujahideen. The men could have the glory of fighting in battle. Women got to blow themselves up.

Meanwhile, the big silver platters of food were ready. Men carried them out to the group of insurgents meeting behind the closed door of the sitting room. Based on their comments, this house seemed to be in western Baghdad or near Abu Ghraib (view interactive map).

I talked with Um Ali and other women in the kitchen. Yes, I traveled back and forth between countries for my job, I said. They replied that it was wrong for them to work, that they left school at age 12 to learn to cook and keep house.

Then the dinner platters returned, with the food ravaged – rice everywhere, bones with the chicken chewed off, nothing left but scraps, really.

And the women sat and began to eat the scraps.

I couldn’t believe it! After all the time they’d spent preparing the meal, they got leftovers.

But I sat down with them. And, as I would often do with women over the next three months, I ate from the remains of the communal stew.


(P.G.) It was a surreal experience. Alone in the Al Jazeera television studio, Jim Carroll stared at the camera, aware that at any moment it would switch on and broadcast his image around the world. He didn’t want that image to be him scratching his nose, so he stayed unnaturally still as the minutes ticked away.

A day earlier, Mary Beth had appeared on CNN, making the family’s first televised response to the kidnappers’ demands. “They’ve picked the wrong person … if they’re looking for someone who is an enemy of Iraq,” she said, adding to her scripted statement. (Read the statement).

Now, it was Jim’s turn.

Finally, after a quarter of an hour, the light blipped, and, on Jan. 20, Jill Carroll’s father made his global TV debut. Live, for the 6:00 a.m. news feed in the Middle East.

“I want to speak directly to the men holding my daughter Jill because they also may be fathers like me….”

When he left the studio after finishing, the woman who had produced the shoot came up to him. Tears were running down her cheeks. “Bingo,” thought Jim. His message appeared to have gotten through. Maybe other tears were running down other cheeks right now, in Iraq.

It had been a busy week. Three days ago, the first video of Jill as a hostage had appeared on Al Jazeera; she’d looked tired and stressed.

On the positive side, the video had been followed by an outpouring of statements calling for Jill’s release, from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Iraq’s Muslim Scholars Association, and Sunni political leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, among others. In Baghdad, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy had been on the phone working his contacts in the Arab world, tapping into a growing disapproval of insurgents taking innocent civilians.

EGYPT: Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef. Read statements made on Jill’s behalf.

Mr. Dulaimi perhaps was a particularly important catch. Jill had been seeking to interview him just prior to her abduction. Some Westerners in Baghdad suspected that he, or someone who worked in his office, had been involved in the crime.

Jim was worn out by the struggle over family statements. That had been intense. The FBI’s position – that it was best the father talk strongly in a man-to-man manner – was the considered opinion of bureau counterterror experts, who’d tested it before focus groups of Arabs. Iraq was a male-dominated society, after all.

But the Monitor’s correspondents in Baghdad, plus the British security firm there, thought that approach was culturally insensitive. Iraqi men revere their mothers, they insisted, so the first appeal should come from Mary Beth. And it should depict Jill, not as a lone adult, but as the missing piece of a family – another point they felt would appeal to Iraqi hearts.

In the end the family opted for the mother-first tactics. A day after Mary Beth’s appearance, Jim made his own televised appeal, albeit with words watered down from the FBI’s language. He appeared on both Al Jazeera, the most popular Arabic network, and its more reserved competitor, Al Arabiya.

Neither Mary Beth nor Jim were afraid of the camera. But they were afraid of saying the wrong thing.

In her first appearance, Mary Beth took a few questions, and in answering one said that Jill was a good “ambassador” for Iraq, since she’d reported the struggles of Iraqis’ daily lives. But later someone told her that the word “ambassador,” in Arabic, translates as “government official,” not “general emissary.” And the last thing the family wanted to imply was that Jill worked for any government.

So the family limited media appearances to scripted statements. They asked friends not to speak to the press. Almost without exception, their friends complied, with some even slamming the door on reporters.

But for all their attention to the subject, there was one important thing about their appearances that Jim and Mary Beth didn’t know: Would Jill’s captors be watching?

(J.C.) Held against my will, I learned more about Iraqi insurgents than I would have dreamed possible. On one level, I got a firsthand look at the way they live. While I was imprisoned alone in rooms for long periods, I was also allowed to mix with insurgent families in some of the houses where I was held. I even played with their youngest children – a small joy that helped me endure.

On another level, I heard a lot about what they think, both about themselves and the US. I wanted them to see me as more valuable alive than dead, so I told them that as a reporter I could write their story if I was freed.


They seized on this idea, perhaps to a degree I hadn’t anticipated. After dinner, some of the men drew up plastic chairs in a walkway area in the middle of the house and held an impromptu press conference – minus questions, and with me as the lone member of the press.

They insisted that they weren’t terrorists, that they were just defending their country against an occupation. They had nothing against Americans, they said. It was the US government that was their enemy.

“If you come to us as a guest to our country, we will open all of our homes to you and feed you and you are welcome,” said one of the men that night. “But if you come to us as an enemy, we will drink your blood and there will not be one of you left standing.”

I hoped the little briefing would help establish my persona as a reporter. To placate them, I’d memorized verses in the Koran. But I never seriously considered the idea of converting. As I learned more about this brand of Islam, and the life of women tied by marriage or family to the insurgency, the more convinced I was that I couldn’t even pretend to convert. As long as I was seen as a reporter and a Christian woman, I figured they might tolerate my missteps. But if I acquiesced to conversion, even if it was insincere, would a “good Muslim” – like Um Ali – also be required to embrace martyrdom?

At moments like this, I thought they were becoming more comfortable with me. Perhaps they wouldn’t kill me.

Um Ali’s son, Bakr, was 3 years old, cute, and spoiled rotten. He’d jump in my lap, and we’d play a little game: He’d put his nose against mine, his head against my head, and we would whisper really quietly together, him in Arabic, me in English. In the early days of my captivity, we’d do it often, and I’d look in his little eyes, and it really comforted me. It felt so good just to hug somebody.

Still, getting through each hour was an accomplishment. Every day was so long. Um Ali would do something nice, like bring me some tea, and I’d try to react normally. But then I’d remember that they’d killed Alan, my interpreter.

That refrain was constantly in my head: Don’t be fooled, Jill. They killed Alan. Don’t be fooled.


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Part 3: The first video

Jill meets Ink Eyes, her chief captor, and makes a video seeking the release of Iraqi women.

| Staff writers of
The Christian Science Monitor


(J.C.) Monday morning – two days after the kidnapping – my captors began trying to convert me to Islam.

He was eager to show me the similarities between Islam and Christianity, so he was telling me how many stories from the Bible are actually in the Koran. I was anxious to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic.

He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in just one day.

I tried to listen to Abu Ali‘s lesson attentively as he translated complicated Koranic Arabic into more basic Arabic he thought I could understand. He was very pleased that I showed interest in learning. He kept saying there was no pressure, no pressure in Islam, that they were forbidden from forcing people to convert. True acceptance must come from a free will.

They’d kidnapped me, and they all had guns ready to kill me, but, oh no, no pressure there. I falsely assured him that I felt no pressure. I have always been interested in learning about Islam. But only so that I can understand the people I’m covering as a journalist.

Later on, this would come back to haunt me.

(P.G.) Meanwhile, the rest of the world was just beginning to hear about Jill Carroll‘s kidnapping. Journalists in Baghdad had learned of it minutes after it happened, but most held off on reporting the attack. The reason: the Monitor had asked the media to temporarily remain quiet about the crime.

As he hopped from airport to airport on his way into Baghdad, staff writer Scott Peterson had called Boston to add his voice to those of TV network executives and Baghdad reporters who were forcefully arguing for a news blackout. It was a question of Jill’s safety and hostage value. If the kidnappers had made a mistake, and hadn’t known they were snatching a young US female reporter, a blackout might provide them space to release her unharmed. If they had targeted her – a scenario that seemed more likely – the blackout might buy time for a quick negotiation, and make Jill seem less valuable.

More critically, a blackout might protect Jill if she was hiding her Arabic or lying to her kidnappers about her name or background.

The Western media who live in Baghdad are a tight group and consult on everything from security to parties; thus they’re easy to reach en masse. On Jan. 7, managing editor Marshall Ingwerson sent them a formal request to sit on stories about Jill. From his small office off the Monitor newsroom, Mr. Ingwerson fielded a steady stream of inquiries.

“We’d prefer you not write,” he told callers. “Most of your colleagues are respecting this blackout.”

That was true – most did. Some helped enforce it, alerting the Monitor to isolated stories popping up on the Web.

But Jill wasn’t quickly released. And after two days had passed, editors around the world began to grumble. The executive editor of the Associated Press contacted Ingwerson to argue it was time to go public.

Finally, the Monitor agreed. It issued a statement identifying Jill as a “freelance reporter.” Her work for foreign publications, rather than her US clients, was emphasized. The point, again, was to lower her perceived value.

The blackout taught editors something about the degree of cooperation they could expect from media colleagues. Some hadn’t expected it to last five minutes, yet it had lasted for days. Monitor editors began to formulate a plan – something strategic – for shaping Jill’s image in the Middle East.

(J.C.) Monday afternoon the kidnappers called me into the sitting room. Sitting against a wall was a man wearing a kaffiyeh – the traditional Arab men’s headdress, made of checked fabric – wrapped around his head and face. All I could see were his ink-black eyes.

Ink Eyes addressed me in English. His voice had a familiar, gravelly quality.

“Are you happy here?” he asked. “Is everything OK?”

I knew that voice – it was the interpreter, the man who’d grilled me about my background in the initial hours of my captivity. I soon learned that he was more than an interpreter; he was their leader.

He went on to say that his group had kidnapped a French journalist a year earlier, and that she’d asked why she was treated so well. “So you’ll say you were treated well when you go home,” he’d told her.

Another shock – these were the men who’d taken Florence Aubenas. A French foreign correspondent for the paper Liberation, she was kidnapped in Baghdad in January 2005.
(See story | Graphic | Interactive map.)

Well, at least she’d been released, though at the time I didn’t know it was after a five-month ordeal.

Ink Eyes kept talking. “We need to make a video of you,” he said. “We want your family to see this. We want to make them see you in a bad way so that they want to move quickly.”

A vision flashed through my head: I was going to be one of those hostages surrounded by men with guns in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera. I’d always worried about becoming one of them.

Seeing my alarm, they said I didn’t have to make the video if I didn’t want to. I assured them I did want to. They were armed, I didn’t want to know the consequences if I said no.

Then the man with the black eyes said, “Jill, where is your mobile [phone]? Yesterday, the American soldiers came very close, very close to this place where you were. Why did they do that?”

Again, they were accusing me of communicating with the US military. This was bad.

“I am the leader of this little group, and I’m a little more sophisticated than my friends here,” he continued. “Do you have something in your body, something to send a signal to your government?”

Then he told me a story: He’d had a friend held at the US prison at Abu Ghraib. This friend claimed that Marines had given him medicine that put him to sleep, many times. After he got out, he went to the doctor, had an X-ray, and they’d found an electronic tracking device implanted in his body.

“If you have this in your body, tell me now and we’ll go and take it out,” Ink Eyes said, making a plucking gesture with his hand.

“No, I don’t have this! I don’t have this!” I nearly shouted through tears. “Bring a woman. We’ll go in the bathroom right now, and I’ll take all my clothes off and she can look at me and see that I don’t have anything.”

He waved his hand and said that wouldn’t prove I didn’t have a transmitter implanted in my body. Then he changed the subject, apparently letting go of the issue. Eventually, dinner for the men arrived – fish, an expensive treat in Iraq, in honor of me.

I left the room to go eat with the women and children. But it was clear that this suspicion was not going away.

After dinner they told me to put on a track suit they’d given me two days earlier and remove my head scarf. I wanted to wear my hijab if they were going to film me; they said no, they wanted to make my hair messy, make me look bad.

They brought me back into the sitting room, and men began filing in, carrying AK-47s and RPGs. They were cavalier about their weapons; one AK was lying on the ground, pointed right at me. I thought, “If that thing goes off, it’s going to blow off my leg.”

They were holding up a sheet, moving it here and there, trying to find the best light. There were maybe 10 men in the room, and each had an opinion; it was “no, no, no, here,” and then “no, no, no, over here.”

Ink Eyes had written up a short speech, but he wasn’t going to deliver it. Abu Rasha, the man who’d fought soldiers the day before in Baghdad, was going to do it instead. He kept practicing it aloud; I didn’t understand most of it, except for when he said “CIA.”

ACTION: The first video was made Jan. 9 with Abu Rasha, the man in the middle, reading a speech in Arabic. About 30 seconds of the four-minute video were aired, without sound, on Al Jazeera Jan. 17.

Then the leader turned and coached me intently. I was to say that they were mujahideen fighting to defend their country, that they wanted women freed from Abu Ghraib prison, and the US military, particularly the Marines, were killing and arresting their women and destroying their houses.

And I must cry, on cue.

Abu Rasha donned a jumpsuit and wrapped his head in a kaffiyeh. Two others did the same. I sat down in front of them and the camera rolled.

I started to give my speech. Abu Ali standing behind the camera ran his fingers down his cheeks, to signal that I needed to cry.

It took me a while to work up to the crying part. But I had a lot of pent-up emotion and stress, and by the time we finished, I was crying for real. (Later, I learned that Al Jazeera only aired about 30 seconds – without audio – of that first four-minute tape. The tears were never broadcast.)

As the taping ended, I put my head down and I just kept crying. I heard Abu Rasha sigh behind me in a sympathetic way, like he felt bad, and some of the other men were making little noises like they felt bad that I was sitting there crying in front of them.

Ink Eye’s reaction was different. He showed no sympathy. And I knew his opinion of me – my personal character – might make the difference in whether I lived or died.

He said, “We have to do this again.”

He wanted me to cry more and talk longer, and say how the Marines were destroying things, destroying their homes.

EMBEDDED: Jill is shown in western Iraq in November 2005 with members of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment.

They had a special enmity for the US Marines. What they didn’t know – and I hoped they would never find out – was that I had been embedded with the Marines for five weeks in November and December.

Back then, the lieutenant of the platoon I was with had said that if anyone ever kidnapped me, a platoon of Marines would come to my rescue.

So, in the retake of the video I made a point of emphasizing the word “Marines.” I said, “Their government isn’t of the Iraqi people. It is a government brought by the American government and by the MARINES…”

I wanted them to know I was thinking of them. Come get me, guys. Please, come save me.

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Coming in the wake of two Fox TV journalists kidnapped in Palestine, this four-part account of life as a hostage courtesy of hands-on captivity virtuoso, journalist Jill Carroll, is harrowing even in the opening quarter.  I’m sure it will only become more intense as each portion is doled out.

For being a westerner in a land where westerners are generally not welcome, Carroll seemed to take every precaution to avoid the circumstances she was caught up in.  She wore traditional clothing when out in public.  She restricted her travel, avoiding the “no-go areas.”  She took a multitude of precautions that many journalists probably forget, or intentionally avoid, yet still she managed to endure and eventually survive her grim ordeal.


Part 1: The kidnapping

An interview with an Iraqi politician turns deadly.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor


My chief captor had an idea about how to prod the US government into action: another video.

He said this one would be different, and left.

I turned to the two guards sitting on cushions a few feet away and started to panic. Really, really panic.

“Oh my God, oh my God, they’re going to kill me, this is going to be it. I don’t know when but they’re going to do it,” I thought.

I crawled over to Abu Hassan, the one who seemed more grown-up and sympathetic. His 9mm pistol was by his side, as usual.

“You’re my brother, you’re truly my brother,” I said in Arabic. “Promise me you will use this gun to kill me by your own hand. I don’t want that knife, I don’t want the knife, use the gun.”

I started to cry hysterically. By now I’d been held captive by Iraqi insurgents for six weeks. They’d given me a new hijab, a new name (Aisha), and tried to convert me to Islam. They’d let me play with their children – and repeatedly accused me of working for the CIA.

At night I’d fall asleep and be free in my dreams. Then I’d wake up and my situation would land on me like a weight. Every morning, it was as if I was kidnapped anew.

That particular morning I’d received a visit from Abu Nour, the most senior of my captors. As usual, the distinctive scent of his spicy cologne had announced his presence. As usual, I’d snapped my eyes to the ground to avoid seeing his face.

“We need to make a new video of you,” he’d said, in his high-pitched, yet gravelly voice. “The last video showed you in good condition, and that made the government move slowly.”

The British government had moved quickly, he’d said, after a video had shown hostage Margaret Hassan in bad condition. They wanted to push the US in the same way.

Margaret Hassan! An Irish aid worker married to an Iraqi, she’d been seized in Baghdad in October 2004, while on her way to work. Less than a month later, she was killed.

After the leader left, I sat and stared into the glowing metal of the propane heater, my knees drawn up under my red velveteen dishdasha. I was completely terrified.

If it was going to happen, I wanted it to be quick. So I crawled over to Abu Hassan and begged.

“I don’t want the knife!” I sobbed.

Neither Abu Hassan nor his fellow guard – the blubbery, adolescent Abu Qarrar – really knew what to do about my outburst.

“We’re not going to kill you. Why? What is this?” said Hassan.

His voice was flat and sounded insincere.

“Abu Qarrar, you speak English. You have to tell my family that I love them and that I’m sorry,” I implored.

I sat against the wall of a house whose location I didn’t know, under a window to an outside I couldn’t walk through, and cried and cried.

In Baghdad, Jan. 7, 2006 was a sunny Saturday. For me it promised to be an easy day.

Not that my life in Baghdad was easy. Freelance journalism is a tough business everywhere. But I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle in the US and write, as I had, about the Department of Agriculture food pyramid. Here I was living my dream of being a foreign correspondent – even if that meant sometimes living in a hotel so seedy it was best to buy your own sheets.

First up were some routine interviews of Iraqi politicians trying to form a new government. Three weeks before, the country had chosen its first democratically elected permanent government. But Sunni politicians were dismayed at how few seats they’d won.

Later, I planned to leave my virus-ridden laptop (stashed in the trunk) with a techie friend of my interpreter, Alan Enwiya.

Alan was vital to my newsgathering process. We had been a team for almost two years. We were also friends – it felt as if we were almost siblings – who’d worked through Iraq’s difficult and increasingly dangerous conditions.

In our time together we’d eked out a living freelancing for the Italian news agency ANSA, USA Today, US News & World Report, and now The Christian Science Monitor. We had been threatened by militia members, mobbed after Friday prayers, and seen bullets rain down from passing police vehicles. We’d walked hours through Baghdad soliciting interviews from ordinary Iraqi voters.

During long days in traffic jams, Alan would tell me funny stories about his daughter and infant son, marveling at how fast they were growing. I would tease him that I was a spy for his wife, Fairuz, and would report to her if I caught him looking in the direction of a pretty girl.

The first interview on our list that morning was Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni politician. While there was a handful of what Western journalists considered no-go neighborhoods in Baghdad – his office wasn’t in that category yet. But we had taken our normal security precautions. I was dressed, for example, in a black hijab that hid my hair and Western clothes. We’d been to Mr. Dulaimi’s office several times before without a problem. Our last trip had been two days earlier to set up this interview.

In retrospect, that was a fatal mistake; we had given someone 48 hours to prepare for our return.

Adnan Abbas, the Monitor’s longtime driver – who’d shared many of our harrowing experiences – guided his maroon Toyota sedan along the familiar route to Dulaimi’s office, dropping us off 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of 10 a.m.

Inside, Dulaimi’s aides steered us away from the usual waiting room full of men drinking sweet tea in tiny glasses, and into an adjoining room where we were alone. Alan and I noticed the strangeness of this move at the same moment.

“Well, it’s better,” Alan said. “You’re a woman and there are a lot of men in there.”

The minutes passed and aides walked through the room chatting on cellphones. I understood through my rudimentary Arabic that they were telling various people that a reporter was waiting to see Dulaimi. But a little after 10 a.m. the same aide who had made the appointment for us approached us.

“Sorry, Dr. Dulaimi has a press conference right now,” the aide said. “He can’t talk to you. Can you come back at 12?”

I wondered why I hadn’t heard about the press conference before now.

We agreed to come back later and stepped out into the bright sunny morning where Adnan was waiting for us.

As we walked to the car, Alan reminded me that we needed to call ahead to make sure our next interview was still on. He climbed into the front, and I handed him my phone from the back seat, my usual place. He began shouting into the phone, trying to make himself heard over Baghdad’s overloaded, spotty cellphone network.

Adnan had begun to pull away, but suddenly a large blue truck with red and yellow trim backed out of a driveway in front of us, completely blocking the road. Several men were standing around it, motioning to help it back out.

But in an instant they turned, trained pistols on us, and briskly approached the car.

Adnan hit the brakes, and he and Alan put their hands up. It was a routine we had become familiar with in Baghdad, where private security details often brandish weapons to clear a path for their clients.

But unlike the previous times, the men didn’t lower their weapons – and they kept advancing. The man closest to the car, a rotund person with salt-and-pepper stubble, had his gun aimed right through the windshield at Adnan.

My eyes were glued to him. I was confused about why he didn’t lower his pistol. At the same time Adnan and Alan opened their doors and began to get out of the car.

The gunmen ran at us. A whisper exploded from me into a scream, “No, no, NO!” as I tried to get out. The door closed on my right ankle as someone shoved me back in, pushing so hard that the right lens of my glasses popped out. Through the crack in the door – before the intruder slammed it – I saw the last moment of Alan’s life.

Adnan was gone. The rotund man was in the driver’s seat now. Other men jumped in sandwiching me between them. We sped away, out onto the main road, then turned right.

“Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!” my abductors shouted, excited and joyful. “Jihad! Jihad!”

(P.G.) The taking of Jill Carroll off a Baghdad street on Jan. 7, 2006, created many hostages, of whom Jill herself was simply the central one, and the most endangered.

For her family and many friends and colleagues, normal life ended in the hours and days to come, as they heard what had happened. Henceforth, there would be worry, sometimes fear, and new routines that had one aim: free Jill.

Their solace was action. The first thing her father Jim Carroll did that black Saturday morning was fire up his computer to see what he could learn, while Mary Beth, her mother, contacted family members. Sister Katie, who worked for an international development consulting company, began calling every number she knew in the Middle East.

In Boston before the sun rose, the Monitor assembled an ad hoc Team Jill – Marshall Ingwerson, the managing editor; David Scott, the foreign editor; and Amelia Newcomb, the deputy foreign editor. Richard Bergenheim was in Mexico taking his first vacation since becoming the paper’s editor. He caught the next flight back.


For the next 82 days, they met every few hours, sometimes starting at 5:30 a.m. and often finishing the day at 10 or 11 p.m. with a conference call with Baghdad. Some of these editors had dealt before with the stress and emotion over the kidnapping – and even murder – of foreign correspondents filing for the paper. But none were truly prepared for what lay ahead.

Jill herself, isolated by Islamist insurgents, did not envision such rallies to her cause. In the weeks to come she sometimes would avoid thinking about her family, because it made her sad; when she did, she imagined them apprehensive, waiting for some sort of word from the US government. As for the Monitor, well, she was just a freelancer, and it wasn’t a rich paper. She figured that following her kidnapping and the murder of her interpreter, its rotating Baghdad staff would have fled Iraq.

She was wrong.


(J.C.) In the first minutes after my abduction, my captors peppered me with questions in Arabic. I played dumb, fearful they would think I understood too much and kill me.

They quickly drove Adnan’s Toyota onto the highways of western Baghdad and surrounding farmlands, going in circles, apparently to kill time. Their “success” was granted by God, they believed, and they issued thanks repeatedly. “Allah Akbar” they said, “God is greatest.”

“They’re going to take me out into a field and kill me,” I thought as we bumped down rural back roads.

They seemed to read my thoughts, perplexed that I was afraid amidst their jubilation.

“Why you worried?” they asked in stilted English. “No, no, no, [this is] jihad! [We are] Iraqi, Iraqi mujahideen! Why you worried?”

Sunni Muslim insurgents were – still are – the most active hostage-takers in Iraq. Many were allied to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who led Al Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed by a US airstrike June 7.

But the outside world didn’t know much about these groups. These weren’t people who held press conferences or articulated their grievances through the political process.

They were a powerful force in Iraq, but they were like shadows behind a curtain. We could see broad outlines, but were left to guess at who they really were, how they think, and what motivates them.

Alan and I had been focusing for several months on piecing together a clear picture of Iraq’s Sunni community. Their tacit support for the insurgency allowed it to operate; understanding them was key to understanding the forces violently splitting the country.

Now I was to gain the insight we had so long sought. At such a price to Alan, I have never been so desperate for ignorance.

(P.G.) On the morning of Jan. 7, the phone rang in Monitor staff writer Scott Peterson‘s Istanbul home just as he was stepping out the door, headed to the airport. His wife, Alex, picked up, and gave the caller Scott’s cellphone number. If he stopped now, he might miss his flight to eastern Turkey, where he was traveling to report a story on bird flu. Better to talk in the taxi, on the way.

Lean and intense, Mr. Peterson is a veteran foreign correspondent, the sort of person who wears a scarf as a memento of an attack by a poisonous snake in Africa. He’s such a dedicated rock climber that he’s built a climbing wall within the Monitor’s small Baghdad apartment, where he spends four to six weeks at a time on assignment, to help himself stay physically and mentally sharp.

Five minutes down the road, the call came through. It was a British security firm that advises many journalists in Iraq. After a brief conversation, Peterson asked his driver to turn around. He called the foreign editor to inform him of his new destination – Iraq.

Sometime that day, Peterson, a habitual notetaker, wrote “Jill Abducted in Baghdad” in one of the small blue books he uses to document his life.

Underneath that line, in smaller letters, he wrote one word: “prayers.”

(Photograph) FIRST REACTION: The notebook of Scott Peterson. The Christian Science Monitor staff writer in a taxi in Istanbul when he heard the news of his colleague’s abduction. He wrote “Jill abducted in Baghdad” and, underneath, “prayers”.


(J.C.) The room was small, with furniture that was fancy by Iraqi standards – two couches and an overstuffed chair covered in dark velvet with gold trim. The TV and its satellite box were in the corner.

Abu Rasha – a big man whom I would come to see as an organizer of my guards – lay down on one of the sofas. His wife and one of his children sat next to him on a chair.

Then Abu Rasha handed me the remote. “Whatever you want,” he said.

How do you channel surf with the mujahideen? I asked myself that question as I flipped from one show to another, trying to act casual. Politics was out. News was out. Anything that might show even a flash of skin was out.

Finally, I found Channel 1 from Dubai, and Oprah was on. OK, good, Oprah, I thought. No naked women, no whatever, she’s not in hijab, but it’s OK.

The show was about people who had had really bad things happen to them, and had survived, and had hope. One woman came on who had been a model in the ’70s and had breast cancer, and now she’s a famous photographer. It really had an impact on me. Oprah talked about how people get through these things, and I thought, well, this is sort of prophetic, maybe.

I had only been in captivity a few hours. This house, big, with two stories, was the second place I’d been taken.

The first had been a tiny, three-room house among tall crops on Baghdad’s western outskirts. It was a poor place, built of cinder blocks. My captors gave me a new set of clothes, and I changed in the bathroom while the stern-faced woman of the house looked on.

They took pains to explain they wouldn’t take the $100 in cash they’d found in my pockets.

“When you return to America, this with you,” said one, waving the $100 bill.

Who were these people? Kidnapping was justified but taking money was not? And less than an hour after killing Alan to kidnap me, they seemed to be saying they would eventually let me go.

Then we drove to the second house, which appeared to be the home of one of the kidnappers, who’d given his name as Abu Rasha.

They took me upstairs to the master bedroom. Within a few minutes an interpreter arrived, and an interrogation began.

They wanted to know my name, the name of my newspaper, my religion, how much my computer was worth, did it have a device to signal the government or military, if I or anyone in my family drank alcohol, how many American reporters were in Baghdad, did I know reporters from other countries, and myriad other questions.

Then, in a slightly gravelly voice, the interpreter explained the situation.

“You are our sister. We have no problem with you. Our problem is with your government. We just need to keep you for some time. We want women freed from Abu Ghraib prison. Maybe four or five women. We want to ask your government for this,” the interpreter said. (At the time, it was reported that 10 Iraqi women were among 14,000 Iraqis being held by coalition forces on suspicion of insurgent activity.)

“You are to stay in this room. And this window, don’t put one hand on this window,” he continued. “I have a place underground. It is very dark and small, and cold, and if you put one hand on this window, we will put you there. Some of my friends said we should put you there, but I said, ‘No she is a woman.’ Women are very important in Islam.”

After that they fed me from a platter of chicken and rice that would have been fit for an honored guest. And I was invited downstairs to watch television with Abu Rasha’s family.

That’s when we’d watched Oprah. Afterward, Abu Rasha asked me what I liked to eat for breakfast, and what time I had it. It was part of this pattern – they all seemed concerned that I think they were good, or at least that they were treating me well.

It sounds hospitable. But in my mind every second was a test – the choice of food, TV program, everything – and they would kill me if I gave the wrong answer.

Eventually I told them I wanted to sleep, and they led me upstairs. I lay in bed, on the far side away from the window. The clock was ticking loudly, and then it started to rain. I love rain, and I thought, oh, maybe this is a good sign.

But I’d been performing all day, holding in my emotions, and with darkness they came flooding back.

“Oh my God. They killed Alan.” A tide of emotion was racing toward me. It was going to drown me or send me flinging myself against the walls in anger and screams. I had to stop it.

“I cannot grieve now. I cannot do this now. I have to put it away,” I thought.

I looked up into the darkness of the ceiling toward Alan. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’ll take care of you later.” I felt disloyal. I thought to survive, I had to push aside the memory of his brutal murder. But I knew that at some point I’d have to come to terms with the guilt I felt for his death.

As night fell, I wondered if my friends had heard. I knew that by this point Alan’s family, his wife, Fairuz, was realizing the worst.

“Well, now they must know,” I thought. “It’s dark. He hasn’t come home. They must be screaming. Fairuz must be screaming.”


How to help


Alan Enwiya is one of nearly 100 journalists and media assistants killed in Iraq since March 2003. Alan (left side of photo) is survived by his wife, Fairuz, his two children, Martin and Mary Ann, and his parents.

In response to readers, the Monitor has set up a fund to help support Alan’s family and to enable them to start a new life in the US, where they have relatives.

Donations may be sent to:

The Alan Enwiya Fund
c/o The Christian Science Monitor
One Norway Street
Boston, MA 02115

Donations can also be made online here.






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