CPJ calls for release of Fox News journalists kidnapped in Gaza

New York, August 14, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the abduction today of two foreign journalists in Gaza City by unidentified Palestinian gunmen.

According to CPJ sources and news reports, gunmen ambushed a Fox News Channel crew on Omar al-Mukhtar Street in the center of Gaza City, abducting correspondent Steve Centanni, a U.S. citizen, and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig, whose nationality could not be confirmed. Two vehicles trapped the journalists’ satellite uplink truck marked “TV.” Gunmen forced the driver to the ground, and abducted the two journalists, the sources said.

“We can confirm that two of our people were taken against their will in Gaza,” Fox News said in a statement, The Associated Press reported.

A source at Fox News said no group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The source said that the governing Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, had called for the two journalists to be freed immediately.

“We are concerned for the safety of our two colleagues and call for their immediate and unconditional release,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “These are well established reporters who were in Gaza solely to fulfill their professional responsibility as journalists. We are alarmed that foreign journalists in Gaza have been increasingly targeted for abduction.”

Seven other journalists have been kidnapped in Gaza over the last year. All were released unharmed. The last abduction was on March 14 when Caroline Laurent, a reporter for the French weekly ELLE, Alfred Yaghobzadeh, a photographer from the photo agency SIPA, and Yong Tae-young, a correspondent for South Korea’s public broadcaster KBS, were seized by gunmen. All three were released unharmed 22 hours later.

Past kidnappings appear to be the work of private individuals or groups seeking to use foreign hostages as bargaining chips to secure the release of colleagues or relatives imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority.