Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were released Sunday morning in Gaza shortly after being forced at gunpoint to say they’d converted to Islam.
The two were shown in a videotape released Sunday morning sitting cross-legged and dressed in Muslim robes reading a statement in which they made anti-Western remarks.
Shortly thereafter, the two men were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials, ending nearly two weeks in captivity.
“There were times I thought, I’m dead, and I’m not,” said Centanni, who jubilantly embraced a Palestinian journalist as he bounded into the hotel. “I’m fine. I’m so very happy.”
Centanni confirmed that the last video released by their kidnappers was recorded at gunpoint.
“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni told Fox.
“Don’t get me wrong here. 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.”
The two men were abducted at gunpoint on Aug. 14 by a previously unknown group calling itself Holy Jihad Brigades. Centanni told Fox’s Shepard Smith by phone that four masked men pulled them from their car and put pistols to their heads.
The two were bound, with black hoods pulled over their heads, and transferred to another car before being held face-down in a dark garage. Their captors took their cell phones and passports and ordered them to write down “the story of your life,” Centanni said. “We had to write and write and write.”
Then they were forced to record the three videos released during their captivity.
“We didn’t want to do those,” he said. “Except the one where we told our friends and family that we’re alive and well and please do everything you can to help us.”
Last week the group gave the U.S. a 72-hour deadline to release Muslim prisoners in exchange for the release of the two men. That deadline came and went Saturday, but Palestinian officials said progress had been made on efforts to gain the journalists’ release.
Fox News chairman-CEO Roger Ailes made a rare television appearance on Sunday’s “Fox & Friends” to thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Palestinian prime minister and the Israeli government for helping to secure the men’s release.
“The entire international community is beginning to realize that journalists should never be hostages or pawns in world events,” he said in a statement released later. “Their job is to tell the story of the world as it unfolds.”
Colleagues, friends and family of Centanni and Wiig had emphasized during their captivity that the journalists had chosen their assignments in Gaza and were personally committed to telling the story of the Palestinian people.
“My biggest concern really is that as a result of what happened to us, foreign journalists will be discouraged from coming to tell the story, and that would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine,” Wiig said at the press conference. “You guys need us on the streets, and you need people to be aware of the story.”
After the news conference, Centanni and Wiig left Gaza and crossed into Israel.