Kidnapped AP photographer freed

New York, October 24, 2006—Kidnappers released an Associated Press photographer late Tuesday, hours after he was seized at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip, the AP reported.

Spanish photojournalist Emilio Morenatti, 37, was seen by an AP reporter at the office of a Fatah official after he was freed. The AP said no group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Morenatti was abducted by unidentified Palestinian gunmen as he walked out of his apartment in Gaza City towards his driver and interpreter Majed Hamdan, the AP reported. Hamdan said four gunmen grabbed his keys and phone and told him to turn away, pressing a gun to his head, and threatening to harm him. The gunmen shoved Morenatti into a white Volkswagen and sped off.

Spokesmen for both Hamas, the Islamic group that leads the Palestinian government, and President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the moderate Fatah Party, had condemned the attack, and called for the journalist’s immediate release.
Morenatti has been working for the AP in Jerusalem since April 2005. He had been in Gaza since Sunday.
Once rare, journalist abductions in the Gaza Strip have increased over the last two years. On August 14, a previously unknown group called the Holy Jihad Brigades abducted Fox News Channel correspondent Steve Centanni and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig in the center of Gaza City. The journalists were held for 13 days before being released unharmed.

In addition to Morenatti, at least nine other journalists have been kidnapped in Gaza since 2005. All were released unharmed. Past kidnappings appear to be the work of private individuals or groups seeking to exploit foreign hostages for political purposes or using them as bargaining chips to secure the release of colleagues or relatives imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority.