BAGHDAD, Iraq – After nearly three months in captivity in Iraq, American reporter Jill Carroll was set free Thursday.
Carroll, who was a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor at the time of her kidnapping, apparently was left in the street near the Iraqi Islamic Party offices in Al Ameriya just west of Baghdad. She walked inside, and people there called American officials.
"I was treated well, but I don't know why I was kidnapped," Carroll said in a brief interview on Iraqi television, during which she wore a light green Islamic headscarf and a gray Arab robe. "I'm just happy to be free. I want to be with my family."
She added that although she had a nice room and nice clothes, she still did not feel like she was free. She was allowed to watch TV once and read a newspaper once.
Asked about the circumstances of her release, she said, "They just came to me and said we're going. They didn't tell me what was going on."
Richard Bergenheim, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor, read a statement from the family at the newspaper's Boston headquarters on Thursday.
"Our hearts are full, we are elated by Jill's safe release. We would like to thank all of the generous people around the world" for their thoughts and prayers, the statement said.
It added that Iraqi people have shown world a "a deep compassion for Jill's situation."
"Our thoughts are with the families of others still being held hostage in Iraq and we hope that their loved ones will return to them safely as well," the statement continued.
The family said its priority now is to help Carroll recover and asked the media to respect its privacy and focus on her well-being. The family said it will release more details about her experience as they feel appropriate.
Captors Say Americans Failed at Rescue Ops
The young reporter was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad's western Adil neighborhood while going to interview Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. Her translator was killed in the bloody ambush about 300 yards from al-Dulaimi's office.
The previously unknown Revenge Brigades claimed responsibility. Carroll said she had been treated well, despite the group threatening twice in videotapes to kill her. "They never hit me. They never said they would hit me," she said.
Carroll said she was kept in a room with a window and a shower, but she did not know where she was.
A statement released by the Revenge Brigade was also released on Thursday, according to SITE Institute, which researches terrorism.
The exact text of the statement reads: "We, the mujahideen in the Land of Two Rivers annouce the release of the American reporter Jill Carrol (sic), after holding her for a period of almost three months. The American forces, and the CIA were not able to reach her or find her, which proves their its failure in front of the whole world. These forces (the Americans) are well known in capturing innocent people blaming them for their role in kidnapping this reporter. We are releasing this reporter today after the American government agreed to some of our conditions, by releasing some of our women in prison in the world should know that we have an issue that will defend it till death. But the loyal reporters are the friends and brothers of the mujhaideen, and their loud voice defends them (Mjahideen.)
"Jill Carol, go back in peace to your family and to your country, to tell them and to the American people what you saw and heard during these three months. You are a witness of the events here and we have full confidence in you that you will tell the truth without any falsification."
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with Carroll and said she was in good spirits and anxious to go home. He also said no kidnappers were "yet" in custody, and no one in the U.S. mission was involved in paying a ransom. His remarks left open the question of whether "arrangements" were made by others.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military was not involved in Carroll's release.
Bergenheim said "absolutely no" negotiations took place for Carroll's release and credited a growing "chorus" of condemnation from the Muslim world for helping win her freedom.
Carroll's Family: 'We Are Thrilled'
Carroll's mom, Mary Beth, told FOX News that she is very excited about the news. She wanted to thank the media and the Christian Science Monitor for all the support over the last several months. She indicated that information about any news conferences or family statements will be handled by the newspaper.
From his home in Chapel Hill, the reporter's father, Jim Carroll, said he is waiting to learn more about what was happening in Iraq before making travel plans to reunite with her. He wanted to thank all who have supported and prayed for his daughter.
"Obviously, we are thrilled and relieved that she has been released," he said on the porch of his home. "We want to thank all that have supported and prayed for her. We want to especially thank The Christian Science Monitor, who did so much work to keep her image alive in Iraq."
"It's made it a very special day for us and I think there's a great deal of celebration and joy," Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told FOX News. "I think we had all expected the worst ... it's just more than we could have imagined."
Police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said Carroll was released near an office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni political organization, in western Baghdad.
"She is healthy and we handed her over to the Americans," party member Nasir al-Ani told The Associated Press.
A statement released by the Iraqi Islamic Party says Carroll handed someone in the Al Ameriya office a letter written in Arabic asking for the party's assistant. After checking her identity, Carroll was transferred to the party's main headquarters in the Yarmouk neighborhood under heavy security. She then requested to call her colleague, the Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post. Calls were also made to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and to Carroll's family.
At party headquarters, Carroll was given gifts that included a Koran. She was handed over to fellow journalists and American officials at about 2:30 p.m., the party's statement said.
Aides to President Bush have said that securing Carroll's release was a priority. They were able to confirm she had been freed shortly after the first reports of the event.
"Thank God," Bush said Thursday about the news. "I'm just really grateful she was released," he added, thanking those who worked for her release. "I'm glad she's alive."
Bush spoke at a Cancun Caribbean resort where he is meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In Berlin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was "pleased" by the news of Carroll's release, saying the news is to the "great delight and great relief of the United States" and people around the world.
"This is something that people across the world have worked for and prayed for and I think that we are all very pleases and happy to hear of her release," Rice said.
During Carroll's months in captivity, she had appeared twice in videos broadcast on Arab television, pleading for her life.
Her captors had demanded the release of all women detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 and said Carroll would be killed if that did not happen. The date came and went with no word about her fate.
On Feb. 28, Iraq's Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Carroll was being held by the Islamic Army in Iraq, the insurgent group that freed two French journalists in 2004 after four months in captivity.
She was last seen in a videotape broadcast Feb. 9 by the private Kuwaiti television station Al-Rai. Her twin sister, Katie, issued a plea for her release on Al-Arabiya television late Wednesday.
News of her release also left friends overjoyed.
"I don't know whether to cry or skip down my street," Jackie Spinner, a friend who is a reporter for The Washington Post, told ABC's "Good Morning America."
Carroll went to the Middle East in 2002 after being laid off from a newspaper job. She had long dreamed of covering a war.
In American Journalism Review last year, Carroll wrote that she moved to Jordan in late 2002, six months before the war started, "to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began."
"There was bound to be plenty of parachute journalism once the war started, and I didn't want to be a part of that," she wrote.
Carroll has had work from Iraq published in the Monitor, AJR, U.S. News & World Report, ANSA and other publications. She has been interviewed often on National Public Radio.
ANSA's editor-in-chief, Pierluigi Magnaschi, wrote Carroll an e-mail, telling her: "Welcome back, Jill. We worried about you and rooted for you for a long time, with all our strength."
Magnaschi invited her to Rome saying, "You deserve this stupendous Rome that is blossoming into spring. We await you."
On Wednesday, Katie Carroll said her sister is a "wonderful person" who is an "innocent woman."
"I've been living a nightmare, worrying if she is hurt or ill," she in a statement read on the Al-Arabiya network.
Carroll is the fourth Western hostage to be freed in eight days. On March 23, U.S. and British soldiers, acting on intelligence gained from a detainee, freed Briton Norman Kember, 74, and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, from a house west of Baghdad.
The three belonged to the Christian Peacemakers Teams group and had been kidnapped with an American colleague, Tom Fox, 54, on Nov. 26. Fox was killed and his body was dumped in western Baghdad on March 9.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.