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The race to rescue kidnapped journalist in Iraq

Kidnappers who grabbed American reporter Jill Carroll in Iraq now say she'll be killed Feb. 26 if their demands aren't met. Dan Abrams talks with journalist Micah Garen who was kidnapped & held hostage in Iraq and terrorism expert Walid Phares

The kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll who's been held in Iraq for over a month are now saying they will kill her on February the 26th, unless their demands are met.  It’s not clear exactly what those demands are or whether they're different from the group's earlier demands that all female prisoners in Iraq be freed. 

They had set an earlier deadline for Carroll's execution, which passed.  A Kuwaiti television network aired a videotape of Carroll released yesterday and say they have passed on the—quote—“specific demands of her kidnappers to authorities.”  The video shows Carroll alive, seemingly well, and speaking English. 

Journalist Micah Garen who was kidnapped himself and held hostage in Iraq for nine days in 2004 and MSNBC terrorism analyst and author of “Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America,” joined Dan Abrams on 'The Abrams Report’ to talk about the recent developments.  Micah also wrote a book about his experience called “American Hostage” and has been in touch with Carroll’s family. 

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ' THE ABRAMS REPORT’: Walid, what do you make of the February 26 deadline?  Two and a half weeks seems like quite a distance in the future.

WALID PHARES, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  They want basically to extend what is the most important objective they have, that is to put pressure on the United States and hope that there will be inside the United States a pressure group, her friends, parents, politicians and others who would basically start to question our handling of it.  That's the most important thing for them.

Now, of course, as you just mentioned, there may be other conditions that were not made available or public different from the original conditions that is to free Iraqi prisoners or female prisoners in Iraq. 

ABRAMS:  And Walid, do you expect that if the conditions are just to release the women being held in Iraq, I guess it's four more now, do you think that that's going to happen? 

PHARES:  I think by the fact that they have not, i.e., the kidnappers, the jihadists presumably did not execute her.  They have mentioned that several times.  It means that they found that having a female journalist, American, who is able to articulate and send a message is something important.  If they do execute her, hopefully not, God forbid, then they will lose a very important medium.  So it's now—what we see right now is a brinkmanship policy of the terrorists, saying that they will do, but giving themselves all the latitude and the discretion to harm or not. 

ABRAMS:  Micah, before I ask you to draw on your own experience, I know you've had an opportunity to speak to her family.  What are they saying?  How are they doing? 

MICAH GAREN, JOURNALIST AND FORMER HOSTAGE IN IRAQ:  Yes.  Well, in terms of my own experience, I mean this is obviously quite a bit longer than what I experienced.  I was kidnapped for 10 days, but you know it's a terrifying experience and you don't know necessarily what's going on.  It's hard to speculate, of course, in Jill Carroll's case, but my assumption is that she probably doesn't know what's happening on the outside world and all the efforts on her behalf. 

And I think her family has shown an enormous amount of strength to endure so far in this situation and they've done it with a great deal of dignity.  So my heart really goes out to them. 

ABRAMS:  Have they said anything to you about what they hope the government does or doesn't do? 

GAREN:  Yes, I can't speak about that at all.

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.  OK.  All right.  Let me ask you about the making of a tape that you were forced to make.  What were the circumstances surrounding the making of the tape that we see you on there? 

GAREN:  Well, you know the really terrifying thing is this happened five days into my kidnapping.  And up until then I thought that as soon as they realized that I was a journalist they were going to let me go and this is what they were telling me.  But five days into it out of the blue they just came into the enclosure they were keeping me in and led me off into a room where they made an execution threat video. 

And even after they made the video, I didn't understand what the threat was, because I couldn't understand the Arabic they were speaking.  But they wouldn't tell me what it was.  They wouldn't tell me the threat that had been made, so I didn't find out about the threat until about 12 hours before it was up. 

So you know that whole experience is just—it's one of not knowing anything.  You're just kept in the dark and you can only guess at what's happening.  And it makes it very traumatic. 

ABRAMS:  Jill does speak some Arabic, from what I understand.  Did they seem to know what you had reported?  I mean yes, they capture a journalist and they clearly say to themselves we've got an American journalist.  In your case did they then take the next step and try and actually find out what it is you had written, published or said about the conflict? 

GAREN:  I believe so.  You know it's difficult to know because we didn't get a lot of feedback.  I was kidnapped with my translator and we kept talking to them through my translator and he would ask them questions.  And so what we'd hear back—it was very difficult to put together what was really going on, but I do believe that they researched—I mean, certainly, from the few things I heard back from them, you know six days into it they said you have a fiancee, you know one of the guards.  So clearly they're out there researching you and reading about you.  And it's just what information they share with you as the hostage is often very little. 

ABRAMS:  Walid, why do you think they went to the Kuwaitis with the tape and the demands instead of Al-Jazeera?

PHARES:  Very interesting question, Dan, because everybody accused al-Jazeera of being the only one the jihadists or all other organizations send material to including videotapes and audiotapes.  They want to diversify.  They want to say we are independent.  We are not really, you know, the same organization that sends other kinds of videotapes. 

And also they want to distance themselves I believe psychologically from previous tapes that showed violence.  And at the same time, Kuwait is known to have a media, which is pretty much open and free.  They want a segment of credibility.  So for all these reasons combined, they must have chosen Kuwaiti press. 

ABRAMS:  Walid, tell me about the Internet.  There's been a lot of discussion about the Islamic Web sites and a lot of buzz apparently on the Islamic Web sites debating; it's such a gruesome thought, the idea that they're debating what should happen to Jill Carroll. 

PHARES:  You're absolutely right, Dan.  I've surveyed a number of these chat rooms that I visit regularly.  There was a lot of debating, lot of actually discussion, and asking each other about one particular dimension, and that is she's a woman.  And that is a sacred line in the jihadist mindset in terms of executing or not.

There are a lot of those who said well, we don't kill women even if they are you know from the enemy camp.  Most recently after the events that took place last week I went back on the chat rooms, actually yesterday and this morning, and indeed there were discussions again, probably because of the Kuwaiti release of the video.  And now you have more extremist elements telling the organization well, what are you waiting for?  Look what they've done to us. 

ABRAMS:  Micah, in your case, as it seems in most of these cases, there are certain demands that are made public, whether they're real or not is a separate question.  But in your case it was the American forces should leave a part of Iraq.  Obviously that didn't happen.  Do you know what it was that ended up leading to your release since the demand wasn't met? 

GAREN:  Well, there was an amazing amount of pressure put on this group.  And this group was a Shiite group.  So they looked up to the Shiite leadership.  In that case, it was al Sadr and possibly Sistani.  So in my case there was an enormous amount of pressure from journalists, from human rights groups really you know calling in their contacts and saying this is, you know I'm a good person and that I should be released.  And in my case, reaching people like Sadr did make a big difference. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.