BOSTON – Abducted journalist Jill Carroll feared she would be beheaded when her chief captor, a man whose face was always hidden from her, told her he had been named to lead a group of Iraqi insurgents with close ties to Al Qaeda.
The man praised Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and told her his group had asked Zarqawi to step aside so Iraqis could lead the insurgency, Carroll said. He said they needed to put an Iraqi face on it.
"I was panicked. I couldn't even move," Carroll wrote Monday in the sixth installment of a series about the 82 days she spent in captivity. "This man was telling me he was friends with Zarqawi — someone who personally beheaded hostages."
She described how the man she knew as Abu Nour sat just outside the door of the room where she was held and started speaking one day in glowing terms about Zarqawi.
"He's a very good man, and he's my friend. ... If you met him, you would like him so much," Abu Nour told her, according to the report in the Christian Science Monitor, where Carroll is now a staff writer.
The 28-year-old reporter, then working as a freelancer, was kidnapped in Baghdad on Jan. 7.
According to the Monitor series, Abu Nour told Carroll he was the newly named head of the Mujahedin Shura Council, an umbrella organization of jihadi groups fighting in Iraq. He said the group asked Zarqawi to step aside so Iraqis could lead the insurgent fight. He said he was also known as Abdullah Rashid, who senior Iraqi police investigators say is the head of the MSC, the paper said.
"The Americans are always saying that foreigners are leading the mujahedin, so people need to see an Iraqi face, and he (Zarqawi) agreed," he told Carroll, according to the Monitor report. "When the editor of your newspaper finds out you spoke to Abdullah Rashid, he will be very happy."
A senior U.S. official told the Monitor that Abdullah Rashid exaggerated his importance, and that the MSC is operationally minor. The MSC "are a few guys and a dog and an Internet connection," he said. "Al Qaeda really drives the agenda."
Carroll said her captors shared with her the objective of Al Qaeda and their world view.
One kidnapper said he had just finished an Arabic translation of a Henry Kissinger biography and was reading Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," also in Arabic. Others told Carroll of a 20-year plan to drive Americans from Iraq, destroy Israel and bring Iraq under strict Islamic law.
The wife of one of her captors monitored her every move and showed no sympathy, Carroll wrote.
The woman, Um Ali, read Carroll verses from the Koran and urged her to convert. She seemed an enthusiastic learner at first, but Carroll soon found that was a mistake.
"The more I let my captors teach me, the more they expected me to convert. After a few weeks, the question was always, 'Why haven't you come to Islam yet?"' she said.
Carroll thought of escape often. Her captors once threatened to put her in a cold, dark underground hiding place after she was caught looking out the high window of a bathroom in a building where she was being held.
"They hammered a tarp across both the bathroom and bedroom windows. The loss of sunlight was devastating. It may not seem like much, but it was hugely demoralizing," she wrote.
On another occasion, her captors worried that American soldiers were getting too close, so they bound her mouth so hard that it cut into her mouth, she said.