Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American, and Olaf Wiig, 36, of New
Zealand, were freed today after nearly two weeks of being held hostage,
apparently having had to 'convert to Islam' as a condition for their
A previously-unknown group calling itself the 'Holy Jihad Brigades' claimed responsibility on Wednesday for capturing the two men, releasing a video at that time showing the journalists sitting on a mattress on the floor and telling the camera that they were being well-treated and were in good health.
Just before they were released today, another video was released in which the men proclaimed that they had converted to Islam. But after their release, in an interview with CNN, Centanni stated that their 'conversion' was forced, saying, "I have the highest respect for Islam, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns and we didn't know what the hell was going on."
The Palestinian government credited the Palestinian Minister of Interior, Saed Siam, with negotiating for the release of the two journalists. In a press conference in Gaza City, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya embraced the foreign journalists, apologizing profusely for their ordeal at the hands of an unknown group which Haniyya said was made up of "young men acting in their private beliefs", and not in the interests of the Palestinian people. He called the kidnapping a "reaction" to the suffering that the Palestinian people are being forced to undergo on a daily basis due to the Israeli occupation.
A statement from the captors today stated, "They chose Islam and that is a gift that God gives to those whom he chooses." They have yet to be apprehended or arrested.
During the journalists' thirteen-day detention, the longest kidnapping in Gaza, all of the major resistance groups in Gaza denied involvement and said the men should be freed.
In the press conference following their release, Olaf Wiig, a cameraman from New Zealand who had been covering the Israel-Palestine conflict from Gaza with Centanni and other colleagues for Fox News when the two were captured on August 14th, expressed concern that their kidnapping would make other journalists afraid to come to Gaza to cover the conflict.
"The Palestinian people deserve to have their story told", he said, adding, "My biggest fear is that other reporters would decide not to come to Gaza based on what happened to us. The Gaza Strip needs international reporters here, to report to the world what is happening here to the Palestinian people."