CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The phone rang just before 6 a.m. After three months of captivity in Iraq, freelance reporter Jill Carroll called her dad to let him know she was alive — and free.
“It was quite a wake-up call, to say the least,” Jim Carroll said Thursday outside his home. “She’s doing well. I was glad to see her on TV this morning. She’s apparently in good health and mentally strong and we’re all very pleased about that.”
Jill Carroll was heading to an interview with a Sunni Arab politician in Baghdad on Jan. 7 when she was kidnapped. Her translator was killed, and her captors, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, demanded the release of all women detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 or they would kill Carroll, too.
The date came and went with no word about her welfare.
Then, Thursday morning, her father picked up the phone to the sound of her voice: “Hi Dad. This is Jill. I’m released,” CNN reported were her words.
She had been left in a Baghdad street near the Iraqi Islamic Party offices, walked inside, and the people there called American officials.
“I was treated well, but I don’t know why I was kidnapped,” she said in a brief interview on Baghdad television.
Reunion with family planned
Near Chicago, her mother, Mary Beth Carroll, said she was trying to figure out the travel plans so she could hug her daughter again.
“We’re thrilled,” she told The Associated Press in a quick phone call.
Her father, in Chapel Hill, thanked all the family’s supporters in the U.S. and Iraq and The Christian Science Monitor, the newspaper for which she had been writing.
“We’ve had an arduous three months,” Jim Carroll said. “It’s been very, very difficult on the family and all of the friends, and obviously all the people around the world.
“The media coverage on Jill has been amazing. We couldn’t believe it. We certainly appreciate that.”
The news of Jill Carroll’s release quickly spread across the campus of her alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, in the Michigan town where grew up and elsewhere.
President Bush, in Mexico, responded to the news with the words: “Thank God.”
“I’m just really grateful she was released,” Bush said. “I’m glad she’s alive.”
No involvement from military
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military was not involved in Carroll’s release.
Meanwhile, German authorities said Thursday they arrested a man who is accused of trying to extort $2 million from the Christian Science Monitor by promising to win Carroll’s release.
A U.S. arrest warrant and FBI affidavit made public Thursday by federal prosecutors in Washington said that Kelvin Kamara, a west African native living in Germany, struck up an e-mail exchange with a Monitor editor in Washington little more than a month after Carroll’s abduction in early January. Kamara, calling himself Saidu Mohammed, said he knew who was holding Carroll and could arrange her freedom in exchange for the payment, the FBI affidavit said.
Kamara said he was working with two brigades who were willing to free Carroll from her captors, but were demanding ransom. “ ... you can raise two million dollars or else jill is likely to become history,” Kamara wrote on Feb. 14 from a Yahoo mail account.
Following her release, Carroll’s former journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts called it “a tremendous day.”
“We’ve been hoping for this day for three months,” said professor Norm Sims. “The journalism faculty has been calling each other on the phone. A lot of us were Jill’s friends and professors. This is tremendous news.”
Dreamed of war-reporting
Carroll, 28, had grown up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She went to the Middle East in 2002 after being laid off from a newspaper job, fulfilling a long-held dream of covering a war.
After the kidnapping, her family and the newspaper issued several pleas for her release.
Just before she was freed, her sister Katie Carroll pleaded for her freedom on Arab television, saying: “I’ve been living a nightmare, worrying if she is hurt or ill.”
Hours later, that nightmare came to an end.
“Our hearts are full. We are elated by Jill’s safe release,” her family said in a statement released by the editor of The Christian Science Monitor, Richard Bergenheim.
Bergenheim, speaking outside the newspaper’s Boston headquarters, said no money had been exchanged for Carroll’s release. “We simply know she was dropped off at the Iraqi Islamic party headquarters,” he said.
He said Carroll would soon learn that people of all faiths worldwide had been praying for her.
“The chorus of Muslim leaders condemning this kidnapping has been louder and louder than has been heard for some time,” Bergenheim said.
Hometown residents celebrate
In Michigan, David Hutchinson woke up his 16-year-old daughter, Marisa, as soon as heard the news. His family had watched Carroll grow up across the street from their Ann Arbor home, where Carroll baby-sat for Marisa, and they had corresponded with her via e-mail after she moved to Iraq.
“We always believed that she’d figure out a way to get herself free,” David Hutchinson said. “She’s just really smart and really dedicated. Everything I know about Iraq, I learned about reading everything she wrote.”
Carroll’s father said Thursday morning that he was waiting to learn more about what was happening in Iraq before making travel plans, but he was looking forward to finally seeing his daughter free.
Katie Carroll had a large suitcase when a friend picked her up at her apartment in Chevy Chase, Md. Asked how it felt to have her sister released, she smiled and said: “Very good, thank you.”
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