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Kidnapped Fox journalists released in Gaza

Militants in the Gaza Strip released two kidnapped journalists from the American Fox News Channel on Sunday after the men appeared on a videotape saying they had converted to Islam, Fox said.
Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, of the U.S., hugs a Palestinian journalist after he was released from captivity in the Gaza Strip, on Sunday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

Cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, and correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials. A tearful Centanni briefly embraced a Palestinian journalist in the lobby, then rushed upstairs. Wiig walked into the lobby behind Centanni, briefly turned when someone pulled him by the arm and shouted “get off” before heading upstairs.

Centanni later told Fox News in a phone call from Gaza City that during his capture, he was held at times face down in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions, and that he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to make statements, including that they had converted to Islam.

“I’m a little emotional because this is overwhelming, but I’m fine,” Centanni said. “I’m so happy to be freed.”

The journalists had been seized in Gaza City on Aug. 14 by a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades. However, senior Palestinian security officials said Sunday the name was a front for local militants, and that Palestinian authorities had known the identity of the kidnappers from the start.

Hamas: No link to al-Qaida
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh dismissed speculation that the kidnappers had ties to foreign groups. “The kidnappers have no link to al-Qaida or any other organization or faction,” Haniyeh said. “Al-Qaida as an organization does not exist in the Gaza Strip.”

The Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza militant group, claimed Sunday it had helped mediate the release of the journalists.

This video image released Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006 by the kidnappers of two Fox News journalists, cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand and correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, of the U.S., siezed in Gaza two weeks ago, shows Wiig sitting cross-legged on the floor, dressed in a beige robe and reading from crumpled notes. Their captors, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades, demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. by midnight Saturday in exchange for freeing the journalists. The journalists are expected to be freed later Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006 a senior Palestinian official said, as the kidnappers released new footage of the hostages. (AP Photo/Ramattan news Agency via APTN) TV OUT EDS NOTE: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS VIDEOHOLY JIHAD BRIGADES

The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has insisted it had no clue about the identity of the kidnappers.

However, in recent days, Hamas government officials signaled that the release of the journalists was imminent and that they had won assurances from the kidnappers the hostages were being treated well.

On Sunday, before the journalists’ release, a new video was released, showing Wiig and Centanni dressed in beige Arab-style robes. Wiig, of New Zealand, delivered an anti-Western speech, his face expressionless and his tone halting. The kidnappers claimed both men had converted to Islam.

Several hours later, the two men were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel, wearing Western-style clothing. Their captors 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.

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.