BAGHDAD, Iraq – Her room was tiny, with a small adjoining bathroom and shower. She couldn’t hear any sounds from outside. And the windows were frosted and covered with drapes.
On one occasion in Jill Carroll’s 82 days in captivity, the kidnappers brought her a newspaper. On another, they let her watch a little television. She had little idea what was going on in the outside world.
Still, she says, “It’s important people know that I was not harmed.”
The 28-year-old American reporter’s hostage ordeal ended around midday Thursday when she was left on a Baghdad street in front of a Sunni political party office. Wearing a green Islamic head scarf and a gray Iraqi robe, Carroll walked inside.
She was then driven 20 minutes to party headquarters, where she called her family and gave an interview to Baghdad Television before being handed over to U.S. authorities.
Carroll, a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor, appeared composed and eager to talk.
Although her captors issued televised threats to kill Carroll if American forces did not release women prisoners, she said: “They never said they would hit me, never threatened me in any way.”
Carroll said she did not know who her kidnappers were, where she was held or why she was set free. Shortly before she was released, the journalist said, “They just came to me and said, ‘OK, we’re letting you go now.’ That’s all.”
The U.S. ambassador said there was no ransom paid by the American embassy, but his remarks left open the question of whether “arrangements” were made by others. None of the kidnappers was captured, he said.
In the interview, Carroll seemed well and animated and spoke in a strong voice. She frequently tucked her hair under her headscarf, and appeared excited to be free nearly three months after she was ambushed and her translator killed.
Carroll’s father, Jim, standing on the porch of his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., said he was asleep when the phone rang at about 6 a.m. “Hi, Dad. This is Jill. I’m released,” the voice on the other end said.
“Obviously we are thrilled and relieved that she has been released,” he said.
Near Chicago, the reporter’s mother, Mary Beth Carroll, said she was trying to figure out travel plans so she could hug her daughter again. “We’re thrilled,” she told the Associated Press.
Carroll’s release came a day after her twin, Katie, pleaded on Arab television for her freedom. On Thursday, the sisters also spoke by phone.
President Bush said he rejoiced at the news. “I’m just really grateful she was released,” he said. He thanked those “who worked so hard for her release. I’m glad she’s alive.”
With Carroll’s release there are no more foreign journalists held hostage in Iraq, but two Iraqi journalists kidnapped on Feb. 1 are still being held.
Carroll was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad’s western Adil neighborhood while going to interview Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. Her translator was killed in the attack about 300 yards from al-Dulaimi’s office.
During her captivity, Carroll said, she was allowed only on one occasion to read a newspaper and watch television, and was largely unaware of what was happening in the outside world.
“I was kept in a very good, small, safe place, a safe room, nice furniture,” she said, adding that she was given clothing and plenty of food. “I was allowed to take showers, go to the bathroom when I wanted,” she said. They “never hit me, never even threatened to hit me.”
“I thought I was not free. It was difficult because I didn’t know what would happen to me,” she told the Baghdad Television interviewer.
Carroll’s face seemed rounder, perhaps because of months without exercise. The Washington Post reported her saying that she had eaten even when she was not hungry rather than give offense by turning down meals.
Her statement that the captors never threatened her was a marked contrast to earlier videotapes released by the kidnappers to Arab television stations.
Carroll wept in a Jan. 30 tape on Al-Jazeera television, and the voiceover of the video said she appealed for authorities to free all women prisoners in Iraq to help win her release.
Ten days later, in a video dated Feb. 2 and aired by a private Kuwaiti TV channel, Carroll spoke in a strong voice, saying she had sent a letter to prove she was alive and now was appearing on television for the same purpose.
“I am here. I am fine. Please just do whatever they want, give them whatever they want as quickly as possible. There is a very short time. Please do it fast. That’s all.”
Her captors, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, had demanded the release of all women detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 and said Carroll would be killed if that didn’t happen.
Dr. David Wellish, a psychologist at the UCLA School of Medicine, said he had the impression Carroll was suffering from a psychological trauma known as “Stockholm syndrome,” a survival mechanism in which a hostage begins to empathize with his or her captors.
“Jill Carroll clearly went down the Stockholm syndrome spectrum part of the way,” he said, adding he thought it would take her “a few weeks to get over it and regain perspective.”
It was unclear, however, whether Carroll would have given a different assessment in the interview Thursday were she not still in Iraqi hands – albeit the offices of a Sunni political party.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made an unusual appearance at Thursday’s weekly American military briefing and told reporters he learned of Carroll’s release about 1 p.m.
“No U.S. person entered into any arrangements with anyone. By U.S. person I mean the United States mission,” Khalilzad said.
He also said there was no connection between the recent release of several female Iraqi detainees and Carroll’s freedom.
“What we did before had no connection with Jill Carroll,” Khalilzad said. “We still have a few female detainees – four – and that’s all I can say on that.”
German authorities have arrested a man who is accused of trying to extort $2 million from the Monitor by promising to win Carroll’s freedom.
The Monitor’s editor, Richard Bergenheim, said no money had been exchanged for Carroll’s release. “We simply know she was dropped off at the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters,” he said.
Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, also denied knowledge of a ransom payoff or his party’s involvement in negotiating Carroll’s release.
Carroll is the fourth Western hostage to be freed in eight days. On March 23, U.S. and British soldiers freed Briton Norman Kember, 74, and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, from a house west of Baghdad. But a fourth member of the Christian Peacemakers Teams group held hostage, American Tom Fox, was killed earlier.
Thirty-nine journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since April 2004, when insurgents began targeting the press, said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Six of them were killed.
“As journalists are being kidnapped, detained and killed, it becomes exceedingly hard for them to do their job in Iraq,” Cooper said, “and it is we, the general public, who lose from it.”