2006 Fox journalists kidnapping
Fox News Channel journalists Olaf Wiig (born 1970), a New Zealand photojournalist, and Steve Centanni, an American reporter, were kidnapped in the Gaza Strip by the Holy Jihad Brigades, a previously unknown group of Palestinian militants, from their TV van near the Palestinian security services' headquarters on August 14, 2006.
No militant group initially claimed responsibility and no demands were made. Only on August 24, ten days after the kidnapping, was a video released of the men. The Holy Jihad Brigades demanded that all Muslim prisoners in the United States be released within 72 hours. No indication was given as to what would happen after this time if the demand was not met.
The two were released on August 27, 2006, after a video was released with the two men stating they have converted to Islam. The two men later said they were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint.
Rumours have circulated that the two were freed for $US2 million ransom, although Fox News denies it.
Efforts to free the men
In an internal message by Fox News Channel Senior Vice President John Moody confirmed the abduction and warned about reporting on the story. Fox sent executive Ken LaCorte to the region to press for their release. Jennifer Griffin, a Fox correspondent who was closely involved in negotiations to free the two, said "We met with warlords. We met with head of Hamas, Fatah, Al Aqsa Brigade, popular resistance committees. Islamic Jihad offered to help us." At one point, Griffin and others were taken to a tense meeting with top members of various Palestinian groups. Although a ranson of $US2 millon was eventually paid, Fox has denied being behind this.
Al-Jazeera called for the "immediate release" of the journalists and "in adherence to its code of ethics, reiterates its rejection of attacks of any kind on journalists from any organisation. Al Jazeera calls for the immediate release of the two kidnapped colleagues."
Journalist Fares Akram, who worked in the same building Wiig did, said he thought Palestinian officials had information on Wiig's captors and their location. Hole said he had "seen those reports too, but nothing's come through to us that changes the current situation."
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark expressed concern for Wiig's safety and said "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was alerted by British authorities this morning. New Zealand diplomats are traveling to the region to work with other officials and governments on the release of Mr Wiig and his colleague."
Jan Henderson, NZ Ambassador to Turkey and Israel, arrived in Gaza on August 15. She met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders who were "very upset" about the kidnapping. Henderson said, "They assured me they are doing all they can, they take this matter extremely seriously, and we are looking for a very quick and peaceful resolution to this particular kidnapping. The Palestinian Authority has offered every cooperation. They are very upset. They have condemned the kidnapping, and they assured me they are doing everything they can for a quick and speedy resolution." After meeting with Abbas, Prime Minister Clark said, "On hearing of the kidnapping he had instructed the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority to work to locate the kidnappers and secure the release... President Abbas was very fulsome in what he said. His parting comment was `these people are our guests and we will do whatever we can to help'."
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Rob Hole said there were no developments as of August 18, but said that NZ diplomats were "still active in talking but also active in waiting as well, so no breakthrough at all." Ambassador Henderson and the NZ consul to Egypt Brian Chambers have met with officials from the Palestinian, British, American and Australian foreign ministries. Senior diplomat Peter Rider is on his traveling to the Middle East and will replace Henderson, who is returning to New Zealand.
During the ordeal, Wiig's ex-wife, Anita McNaught, told New Zealand radio from Gaza City that she had only heard "rumours, sons of rumours…none of which we give much credence to" and that kidnappings in the region were "local entrepreneurial banditry". McNaught had said that although it was unusual for so much time to pass without news, "every kidnapping is different. There is no handbook for how you do them." She expressed hope for a breakthrough in the case in the following days and met with several senior officials. McNaught had said that it was unlikely they would leave the area soon after Wiig was released.
On August 17 the United States State Department condemned the kidnappings and called for the journalists to be freed immediately. Clark phoned Wiig's family and offered her support and left a message with McNaught. Wiig's family had said they were "deeply grateful for the care that is being extended to us and for the prime minister's direct call to us."
- "During our captivity in Iraq, virtually all of Palestine called for our release. Today, I implore those holding Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni to free them immediately and unharmed. It is essential that we, the public, understand the greater context within which the kidnapping has taken place. Thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children, have been kidnapped by Israeli forces as part of a campaign to murder a nation under the aegis of the United States. I also call upon the media to fulfil its obligations and report the reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and desist from counter-productive speculation and commoditizing private trauma. I wish the negotiating team, which includes New Zealand diplomats, success.
On August 27, the Palestinian news service Ramattan and Fox News reported that Centanni and fellow captive Wiig were released unharmed, shortly after a new video was released. In the video, both journalists, wearing beige robes, read statements saying that they had converted to Islam, with Centanni stating "Islam is not just meant for some people; it is the true religion for all people at all times." After being freed Steve Centanni stated "We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, and don't get me wrong here, I have the highest respect for Islam, and learned a lot of very 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."
After their return to New York, Centanni and Wiig gave an interview with Greta Van Susteren on her Fox program On the Record. According to Wiig, the kidnappers were convinced that Centanni worked for the CIA, in part because of his presence as a journalist at the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Iraq, and that they intended to kill him. Nevertheless, they also repeatedly promised both men they would soon be freed.
- Report about Wiig and Centanni's kidnapping[dead link]
- Jason Deans and agencies. "NZ Ambassador arrives in Gaza". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- "Kidnapped journalists appear on video". Reuters/RNZ. August 24, 2006. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
- "Fox Journalists Are Released". Sky News. August 27, 2006. Retrieved August 27, 2006.
- "PALESTINE:'US paid $2 mn ransom to get back Fox scribes'". UCLA Asia Media. October 15, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
- "2 Fox News journalists kidnapped in Gaza". AP. Retrieved August 14, 2006.[dead link]
- "Gunmen kidnap Fox News journalists in Gaza: witness". Reuters. Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- "FNCers Kidnapped In Gaza: "Pray For Their Release. I Will Keep You Posted" --Moody". Media Bistro. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
- in_gaza_network_sends_ken_lacorte_to_gaza_city_42352.asp[dead link]
- "Van Susteren interview transcript". Fox News. August 29, 2006. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- "We didn't pay ransom for Wiig and Centanni, says Fox". The New Zealand Herald. November 17, 2006. Retrieved September 14, 2011.
- New diplomat joins effort to free Olaf Wiig[dead link]
- "PM Regarding Captured New Zealand Cameraman". Scoop.co.nz. August 15, 2006. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- PM calls Abbas over kidnapping[dead link]
- "Press Statement August 17, 2006". Scoop.co.nz. August 17, 2006. Retrieved March 1, 2012.
- "Kidnapped Fox journalists released". CNN. Retrieved August 27, 2006.