Negotiator: Fox newsmen's conversion to Islam helped win freedom
Canon Andrew White, who helped negotiate release of Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig from Gaza captivity, says ‘I have to admit that the notion of trying to get them to say very publicly that they would convert was part of our suggestion of a way out
One of the negotiators who helped free two Western journalists abducted in Gaza City said Tuesday that his team suggested to the kidnappers that the captives convert to Islam as part of efforts to secure their release.
Palestinian terrorists freed the journalists, Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni, an American, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, on Sunday, after two weeks of captivity during which they were blindfolded, tied in painful positions and forced at gunpoint to say on a video they had converted to Islam.
Canon Andrew White, chief executive of the London-based Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, said their conversion helped ensure their freedom.
"To be quite honest with you, that was our suggestion," White told New Zealand's National Radio. The conversion "absolutely" allowed the kidnappers to save face, he said.
"One of the key things you have to do in any kidnapping situation to work for release is to find a reason why people should be released," he said. "So I have to admit the notion of trying to get them to say very publicly that they would convert was part of our suggestion of a way out."
He couldn't go into details of the release deal for the two newsmen, but said it evolved during intensive negotiations over several days.
Before they were freed, a video was released showing Wiig, 36, and Centanni, 60, dressed in beige Arab-style robes. The kidnappers claimed both men had converted to Islam.
Their release ended Gaza's longest foreign hostage crisis, but left unclear who was behind the kidnapping. White declined to offer any details that might identify the kidnappers but said they "were originally part of a larger group which is considered terrorist" who had become disaffected and broken away.