GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP – Two Fox News journalists were released Sunday, nearly two weeks after being seized by militants, ending the longest-running drama involving foreign hostages in the Gaza Strip.
American correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig of New Zealand were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel, hours after appearing in a video released by their captors.
The footage of them in captivity showed both men dressed in beige Arab-style robes, and the kidnappers claimed the journalists had converted to Islam.
They were both in Western-style clothing as they arrived at the hotel, quickly walking through the lobby. A tearful Centanni briefly embraced a Palestinian journalist, and Wiig turned and appeared to yell at Palestinian security guards before they headed upstairs.
The day began with assurances by senior Palestinian officials that Wiig, 36, and Centanni, 60, would be released in coming hours. The journalists were seized in Gaza City on Aug. 14.
Their captors, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades, 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.
It also remained unclear whether the kidnappers were local militants, either with ties to Hamas or the rival Fatah movement, or sneaked into Gaza from outside. However, some Palestinian security officials said Sunday there were growing suspicions that the kidnappers were locals.
In the past two years, Palestinian militants have seized more than two dozen foreigners, usually to settle personal scores, but released them unharmed within hours. The holding of the Fox journalists had been the longest.
In the video released earlier Sunday, Wiig is seen sitting cross-legged on the floor and reading from crumpled notes. In the past, foreign hostages held in Iraq have said their captors coerced them into making statements.
“The people of Gaza have suffered for many years in what is effectively a prison camp,” he said. “It is Apache helicopters firing hellfire missiles made in America that kill the residents of Gaza.”
In another segment, Centanni said he has converted to Islam and raised his index finger in an oath of allegiance to the religion.