Jill Carroll is one of the only Americans to gain intimate exposure to the Iraqi insurgency and live to talk about the experience.
For full coverage of Jill Carroll's story visit www.csmonitor.com
While captive for 82 days in Iraq, Carroll tried to stay alive by appearing sympathetic to her captors, telling them that as a reporter she would tell their story once she was freed.
The insurgents allowed her to conduct occasional interviews about their organization in which she learned that they belonged to an insurgent council, including members of al Qaeda.
"The main captor during all these interviews I would do was anxious to tell me about this. He told me his name was Abdullah Rashid," she said. "He said he had helped form this council … in Iraq that brought together some of the main Sunni insurgent groups, and he was the head of it. One of those groups in that council was al Qaeda and Zarqawi."
She was held from Jan. 7 through March 30, months before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq. Her captors told her that Zarqawi had inspired them.
"Al Qaeda and the whole idea of global jihad was their real overachieving motivation and ideological guide. And they loved Zarqawi. He was … a superhero to them," Carroll said. "They all worshipped him. … They would play his sermons for me all the time. … I would hear them talk about this council, and the council was always meeting and making decisions about things … regarding me."
Now that Zarqawi is dead, Carroll said, Rashid is a "powerful" insurgent.
During her time in captivity, the insurgents moved Carroll between what she believed were seven different houses. One location was like a clubhouse, where they created improvised explosive devices for roadside attacks.
"They would build bombs during the day and then go plant them … at night, and blow them up the next day," Carroll said.
"One of the guys had a suicide vest on that he had made himself. It was a vest full of like, TNT and dynamite. He said, 'Come look at my vest,'" she said.
"I would say, 'No, I don't want to see your vest. I don't want to know anything about it.' I didn't know what could be dangerous to know or to be secret. It's also weird and scary, seeing someone standing in front of you with 20 sticks of dynamite. … I was already scared enough," she said.
They frequently questioned her about her connection to the military, accusing her of being a spy and checking to see if she was hiding a cell phone.
"Combating this whole spy thing, and the whole cell phone thing was a theme of almost my entire time. … They think the military can pinpoint your location if you have a cell phone turned on," she said. "Any time a helicopter would fly over, any tank would go by, anything, I would pray to God that they wouldn't notice it."
Throughout the experience, Carroll also noticed a few small children in the houses, including a 5-year-old, whose parents helped capture and guard Carroll.
"He was really cute," she said, talking about the 5-year-old. And he wants to be a holy warrior," she said. "It was this entire family unit. … If you're going to combat insurgency, you have to kill the entire family or something. Or imprison the entire family. That 5-year-old boy is going to grow up and pick up a gun one day and start shooting. Obviously, he's being trained for that."