NABLUS, West Bank – Palestinian militants on Sunday released an American student they had briefly kidnapped in the West Bank, security officials said.
Benjamin Fishbein, a Brown University student, said he was snatched by gunmen while sitting in a coffee shop in the Palestinian city of Nablus, said Rafa Roagbe, head of Palestinian security in the city.
In an interview shown on Israel TV, Fishbein said he was smoking a water pipe in the coffee shop and talking to some local residents when he was approached by a heavily armed man who identified himself as "Ahmed."
"I was a little uncomfortable while I was around him. He had a pistol, a grenade and a machine gun," Fishbein said. "I didn't want to be in his company but it seemed that I didn't have any choice at that point."
Fishbein, who spent time in Cairo and studied as an exchange student at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, went to Nablus as a tourist, Roagbe said.
In a videotape made by his captors, Fishbein is seen with a traditional Jewish skullcap. But when speaking to reporters later, he removed the skullcap. In the videotape, he said in broken Arabic that if Israel did not release Palestinian prisoners, he would be killed.
It appeared the militants agreed to quickly release Fishbein, who will be a senior at Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, this fall, because he is an American who does not hold Israeli citizenship.
"I got the impression that they were in over their heads," said Fishbein. "They were going crazy talking on the phone and they clearly had no idea what they were doing. They were not organized."
Palestinian security forces worked with the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group linked to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, to find and negotiate Fishbein's release, Roagbe said.
Later Sunday, Al Aqsa issued a leaflet denying involvement.
Michael Chapman, a Brown spokesman, said late Sunday morning that the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem told him that Fishbein was brought back to Jerusalem.
"We're relieved to know that Benjamin is safe," Chapman said.
The kidnapping developed just around midnight when the army said it was investigating a possible abduction after some news agencies, including the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera, said they had received a tape showing a kidnapped Israeli.