GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The first thing ex-hostage Olaf Wiig told his New Zealand family after militants released him in Gaza was that he was sorry he'd worried them, relatives said.
A group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades seized 36-year-old Fox News cameraman Wiig and correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, in Gaza City on Aug. 14. Palestinian security officials dropped them off Sunday at a hotel in the city.
"His first comment was that he was sorry he had put us through that," said the cameraman's father, Rev. Roger Wiig.
"It's really quite an overwhelming thing to see a son held in captivity for nearly two weeks, to be released," he said. "He's phoned us and ... we are glad to hear his voice and his concerns straight away."
"It's been a long and difficult wait," he told reporters.
Wiig said Olaf told him by telephone from Gaza that he had "recognized it was a very dangerous situation. Particularly I think the last few days have been quite tense."
"He said 'we needed to be careful and to make statements that would get us out,"' the minister said when asked about Wiig and Centanni's apparent conversions to Islam while in captivity. "You have to understand the duress that would be coming."
It was not immediately clear whether a deal had been struck with the kidnappers, who had initially demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. by midnight Saturday in exchange for the journalists.
Wiig's father said the family had been on tenterhooks all day after calls from a colleague, Canon Andrew White of the Freedom and Reconciliation in the Middle East group, whose people had been in touch with the kidnappers and those responsible.
White had told the family the pair's release was very close throughout the day, in three calls regarding how the pair would be released.
Olaf's "first plans are to get out of Gaza," and Australian officials were helping with the arrangements, his father said.
Sven, the cameraman's twin, said it was "a huge relief, very cool" to speak with his just-released brother, who was "very happy to be out."
"It's been pretty tough," Sven said. "I'm really glad to see him out in one piece."
Sven said the family hopes Olaf will seek a safer career — but his father said it was unlikely Olaf "will be an office-based person."
The minister said he believed the ordeal would be a life-changing experience for him. "And I'll be joining others (fellow clergy) in working for peace," he said.
He said the family wanted to thank the government, foreign officials who had worked for the men's release and the hundreds of people who had supported them.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark thanked Palestinian authorities for their "tremendous co-operation" in pursuing their freedom from the outset.
"Today's release would not have been possible without the wholehearted support and hard work of the Palestinian authorities, and we are extremely grateful for their efforts," she said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he wanted to acknowledge "the great cooperation of the Palestinian authorities, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and the wholehearted way in which they worked to secure the release of the hostages.
"It is always a moment of great satisfaction when a situation like this has a successful outcome," Peters said.