WASHINGTON (AFP) – An Iraqi businessman linked to Saddam Hussein told a US television network the kidnapping of US journalist Jill Carroll was a mistake and a ransom was paid for her release.
Sheikh Sattam al-Gaood, a middleman behind Carroll’s release on March 30 and self-proclaimed insurgency leader, told ABC News in an exclusive interview how her release was arranged and why he supports the insurgency in Iraq.
“They are defending their country,” he said in an interview at his summer house outside Amman, Jordan. “They are an honest resistance. And sometimes they do mistakes.”
One of those mistakes was kidnapping Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance journalist mainly working for The Christian Science Monitor, Gaood said.
Carroll was abducted in Baghdad on January 7 by an armed group, which shot dead her Iraqi translator and was held hostage for 12 weeks.
Gaood, once one of Saddam Hussein’s closest business associates, said he used his influence to help free Carroll, even refusing kidnappers’ demands for a huge ransom.
“There was a demand for eight million dollars,” he said.
Instead, at the kidnappers’ request, he told ABC News he agreed to arrange payment to widows and orphans tied to the resistance.
“We did good donations,” he said. “I don’t want it to go into the wrong hands, the money.”
He did not say how much was given, but says he was willing to arrange payment for as much as one million dollars. Within a few weeks, the kidnappers contacted him saying she was going to be released, and 10 hours later she was freed.
The editor of The Christian Science Monitor said Wednesday he was unaware of any ransom paid by anyone.
“While we are grateful for the efforts made by so many people to obtain Jill’s release, as of today, with the information we have, neither The Christian Science Monitor nor Jill’s family is aware of any evidence to support that claim,” Richard Bergenheim said in a statement.
Gaood, captured by US forces after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and freed last December, openly supports attacks on US soldiers, but not on civilians.
“They are criminals,” he said of those who attack civilians. “The Iraqi resistance are not criminals.”
He said the insurgents have no trouble getting funding, mainly from private donations, not from Arab governments, “but Arab people and Muslim people”.
His objective, he said, is a new Iraqi government with Saddam at its helm.
“Hussein is president,” he said. “He has that title.”