Local Time

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hostage TV men are freed

By SUN ONLINE REPORTER

A BRITISH-BASED cameraman held hostage in Gaza for a fortnight were freed unhurt today.


Olaf Wiig's relatives and neighbours in Sussex spoke of their delight.

Militants called the Holy Jihad Brigades snatched New Zealand-born Mr Wiig, 36, and his Fox News colleague Steve Centanni, a reporter, from their TV van on August 14.

The previously-unknown group demanded that Muslim prisoners in US jails be released within three days in exchange for the men.

But today the pair were dropped off at Gaza City's Beach Hotel, according to New Zealand diplomat Peter Rider.

The first footage of the journalists showed them being greeted and rushed upstairs.

Mr Wiig's wife, former BBC presenter Anita McNaught, was said to be overwhelmed with relief - just hours after making another plea in Gaza for their freedom.

The couple have lived in the quiet West Sussex village of Horsted Keynes for six years.

Alison Mountain, Ms McNaught's aunt and next-door neighbour, said: "That's excellent news.

"It was getting a bit depressing when the deadline had passed and there was no news, but this is wonderful.

"You have your feelings about what has happened, but you just hope everything will turn out fine.

"It has obviously been worse for Anita than it has been for me, and I'm sure she is just relieved."

Close friend Meri Black, who also lives nearby, said: "It is a great relief that they have been released unharmed.

"When you don't hear any news, it can be quite worrying, but this is great."

Mr Wiig's wife, who travelled to the middle east following the kidnap, had begun the day with an appeal to the hostage-takers.

She said: "In the name of the Muslim values you uphold, I consider you responsible for Olaf's and Steve's continued well-being."

The kidnappers then released new video of the two men, attaching a statement in writing claiming the journalists had converted to Islam.

Mr Wiig is seen sitting cross-legged in a beige robe, delivering an anti-Western speech from crumpled notes.

He also read out an Islamic blessing in Arabic, with his fingers following the written text.

He said: "The people of Gaza have suffered for many years in what is effectively a prison camp.

"They have not been free to come and go. Some say this was all started because of 9/11, and of course that wasn't true.

"It is Apache helicopters firing hellfire missiles made in America that kill the residents of Gaza.

"America and George Bush are seen as being evil in some people's eyes in this part of the world.

"It is time that the leaders of the West listen to the people, take notice of the millions protesting in the streets, stop hiding behind the 'I don't negotiate with terrorists' myth."

And in another part of the footage Washington-based Mr Centanni said he was now a Muslim.

He raised his index finger in an oath of allegiance to the religion.

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