BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – American journalist Jill Carroll was freed in Iraq on Thursday, nearly three months after being kidnapped in Baghdad.
“I’m just happy to be free. I just want to be with my family,” Carroll, wearing a headscarf, told Baghdad Television in English, adding she had had no warning she was being freed.
“They treated me well. They didn’t hit me or threaten me,” she said in comments translated into Arabic by the channel, run by the Iraqi Islamic Party at whose offices she was released hours earlier.
She had a comfortable room and could wash easily but could not move beyond the immediate confines of her accommodation.
Asked who her captors were and why they seized her off a Baghdad street on Jan. 7, killing her interpreter, she said in translated remarks: “I don’t know. You should ask the mujahideen.” She did not know if she was held in Baghdad.
Iraqi politicians and officials said the correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was delivered some hours earlier to an office of the Sunni Arab-run Islamic Party.
She was in good health and is now in the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, an Iraqi Interior Ministry source said. The U.S. embassy and military declined comment.
The release of the 28-year-old correspondent, whose Iraqi interpreter was killed during her abduction, came a week after three Christian peace activists were rescued by special forces after four months in captivity.
At that time, military officials in Baghdad said the hunt for Carroll and other foreign hostages was continuing.
An official at the Iraqi Islamic Party said the journalist was delivered to its office in Amriya district, a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold in Baghdad.
The Islamic Party is one of the main Sunni Arab political groups in Iraq. Its leaders, in common with others, made strong appeals for Carroll’s release.
Party leader Tareq al-Hashemi offered her a Koran at the end of her brief television interview and, speaking in English, said: “Don’t forget the Iraqi people.”
Sunni Arab leaders had been embarrassed when Carroll was abducted and her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, killed by gunmen just after she had finished an appointment at another Sunni political organisation. Her driver escaped.
Hashemi said Islamic principles had ensured her good treatment. Carroll’s family and colleagues made much, during appeals for her release, of her commitment to highlighting the problems of ordinary Iraqis since the U.S. invasion.
The first news of Carroll’s release came from the Italian news agency ANSA, for whom she was also a freelance reporter.
Carroll said in her interview she had been allowed to watch television once and saw one newspaper but that she had had little idea of what was going on in the outside world. Her room had a window but it was impossible to see much through it.
After her kidnapping, Carroll appeared in three videotapes played on Arabic television. Her shadowy captors called themselves the Vengeance Brigade and demanded that all female prisoners in Iraq be released.
The U.S. military said it was holding less than a dozen women. Iraqi authorities insisted on freeing many of them after Carroll’s kidnapping, but said the two events were not related.
Hopes for Carroll’s release were boosted after British-led special forces stormed a house last week and freed three Christian peace activists, two Canadians and a Briton.
Although the cases appeared not to be directly linked, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that information gathered during the operation to free the activists could help efforts to free Carroll.
Thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped in the past three years, many for ransom. More than 200 foreigners have also been taken prisoner. Many have been freed but others have been killed by militant groups making political demands.
Two German and two Kenyan engineers are among those still held.