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.
The pair then met with Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The three men sat in a circle of chairs at the Beach Hotel. “I want to thank everybody. I am happy to be here. I hope that this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover the story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful and kind hearted,” Centanni told reporters. “The world needs to know more about them. Don’t be discouraged.”
Wiig also said he was worried that the kidnapping would scare off reporters.
“My biggest concern really is that as a result of what happened to us foreign journalists will be discouraged from coming to tell the story and that would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine,” Wiig said. “You guys need us on the streets, and you need people to be aware of the story.”
Wiig’s, Anita McNaught, thanked Palestinian officials and Fox News for their efforts in getting the men released. The men refused to take questions and then traveled to the Erez crossing into Israel to leave Gaza.
In a phone call with Fox News, Centanni said 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.
Haniyeh also confirmed the kidnappers were from Gaza, squashing speculation that al-Qaeda had directed the abduction. “The kidnappers have no link to al-Qaeda or any other organization or faction,” Haniyeh said.
“Al-Qaeda as an organization does not exist in the Gaza Strip.”
It remained unclear whether the kidnappers had ties to Hamas or the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. A third group, the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed Sunday it had helped mediate the release of the journalists.
Haniyeh was evasive when asked whether he would try to arrest the kidnappers. Before Hamas ousted Fatah in March, it had frequently criticized the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for cutting deals with kidnappers and letting them go without punishment. It was not immediately clear whether a deal had been struck with the kidnappers of the Fox journalists. The kidnappers had initially demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the US by midnight Saturday in exchange for the journalists.
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.
“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni later told Fox. “Don’t get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, 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.”