Fox Journalist Says He's 'Sympathetic' to Captors

ByABC News via logo

Aug. 31, 2006 — -- Despite being taken hostage at gunpoint in Gaza by a jihadist group and held captive for 13 days, Fox News cameraman Olaf Wiig says he can't condemn his captors.

"It's really complex," Wiig said on "Good Morning America."

"In some ways, I feel such sympathy for the Palestinian cause. You know, in my heart. You know, I can't hate them for what they did. I resent on behalf of my family what they did. But there's a funny bit of me that's sympathetic to them still."

Wiig, 36, and Steve Centanni, 60, were abducted by masked gunmen earlier this month.

Centanni, a Fox correspondent, said they were sometimes held facedown in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions, and forced at gunpoint to make videos and say they had converted to Islam.

The two journalists were dropped off Sunday at Gaza City's Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials.

Centanni said he felt "sheer animal fear" after he and Wiig were taken hostage.

"I was wondering if I was going to die of a heart attack or if the next thing would be a bullet in my head," Centanni said.

According to Wiig, when asked where they were being taken, their captors said, "To hell. You're going to hell."

A previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades held the two men in a garage for 13 days, forcing them to pledge allegiance to Islam.

On the day of Centanni's and Wiig's release, their captors delivered a video showing the two men in Arab robes reading from the Koran to indicate their conversion to Islam.

Centanni has said their conversion was forced at gunpoint.

"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," he said in other reports.

Centanni and Wiig were stripped of their possessions and dressed in sweat suits as part of a process of removing their identity.

The journalists said they were not harmed physically during their captivity.

Videotaped messages shown around the world revealed the apparent resignation in their faces.

"You have no choice but to stay calm," Wiig said.

The captors told Wiig that he would be released because he was from New Zealand.

However, Wiig said, they told him that his colleague, Centanni, an American, was dangerous and that they were going to kill him.

Wiig said he kept that information from Centanni.

"I just knew that he was under [a] huge strain already, and I thought it was a burden he didn't need to carry for however long," Wiig said.

Centanni said he was grateful for that. "He's a beautiful man and a good friend," he said of Wiig.

Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, who is also a journalist, was on assignment in Damascus, Syria, when she heard the news of the kidnapping. She rushed to Gaza to put pressure on Palestinian authorities and local Islamist chieftains to save the lives of her "boys."

"The terrorists have not met my wife," Wiig said. "She is a force to be reckoned with."

McNaught said she believed Wiig and Centanni had been released thanks to a team effort on the part of local politicians and journalists, Fox News, her visibility locally and the men themselves.

"It's really crucial to emphasize this," she said. "Now know that a lot of the things I did were visible to the people holding them hostage. They knew I was in Gaza making statements, talking to Palestinian people. That on its own I don't think would have been enough to have got the guys out."

McNaught said it was Wiig and Centanni's "nobility and self-possession" as hostages that played a large role in their release.

"Because they kept, despite the stress they were under, theykept their cool," she said. "They got to know their captors. They behaved with generosity and courtesy. They took them seriously."

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