New York, August 23, 2005—A group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades today released a video of two Fox News Channel journalists it said it kidnapped in the Gaza Strip last week. In a statement with the video, the previously unknown group demanded the release of Muslim prisoners held by the United States within 72 hours in exchange for the journalists, an American and a New Zealander. The group did not say what would happen if its demands were not met.
Correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, appeared in good health in the video, which was obtained by the Gaza-based news service Ramattan. They were kidnapped August 14 in the center of Gaza City. Until today’s video there had been no word from the journalists or indication of who was behind the abduction, in contrast to previous journalist kidnappings in Gaza.
“We are relieved that our colleagues are alive and appear in good health,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “But we remain deeply concerned that these professional journalists are being held against their will. We urge their kidnappers to set them free immediately.”
In the video, Centanni and Wiig are seated on the floor. Centanni, a U.S. citizen, said that the journalists were in “fairly good condition” and that they were being treated well.
“Just want to let you know I’m here and alive and give my love to my family and friends and ask you to do anything you can to try to help us get out of here,” Centanni said.
Wiig, a New Zealander based in London, added: “If you could apply any political pressure on the local government here in Gaza and the West Bank that would be much appreciated by Steve and myself.”
In Washington, the U.S. State Department dismissed the kidnappers’ demands. “We don’t make concessions to terrorists, and we continue to call for the release of these journalists without conditions,” State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said. He added that the State Department had no information on the group that has claimed responsibility for kidnappings
Fox News welcomed news of its staff. “We’re encouraged that our colleagues appear to be alive and well in the tape that was released today,” said John Moody, Fox’s senior vice president for news in New York. “We trust that the abductors understand they are responsible for Steve and Olaf’s welfare and safe return. We ask for their immediate release.”
Once rare, journalist abductions in the Gaza Strip have increased over the last two years. At least seven other journalists have been kidnapped during that time. All have been released unharmed and usually after several hours. The journalist held the longest was
French national Mohammad Ouathi, a soundman for France 3 television. He was held for eight days last year before being released unharmed.
The Fox News journalists’ kidnappings have been widely condemned by Palestinian officials and journalists. Hamas, the Islamic group that leads the Palestinian government, issued a statement calling the abductions morally reprehensible. The two main journalists’ associations in Gaza have also launched appeals. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, a union controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Journalists’ Block, a committee run by Palestinian journalists, both issued statements calling for the release of the Fox News team.