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Hostage Journalists Tell of Gaza Ordeal

This is a transcript from "On the Record," August 29, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, they are right here, they are safe, and now the two journalists kidnapped at gunpoint tell you their stories in their own words. For years, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig have been covering news all over the globe, in war zones from Iraq to Afghanistan to Gaza, and in very dangerous places. On October 14, Steve and Olaf, while doing their jobs getting you the news, were kidnapped at gunpoint and held hostage for nearly two weeks in Gaza. And until they were released two days ago, we were not certain they were even live.

Steve and Olaf join us now, safe and sound here in New York. Nice to see both of you guys.

STEVEN S. CENTANNI, HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA FOR 13 DAYS: Nice to be here.

VAN SUSTEREN: I bet it is good to be here!

OLAF WIIG, HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA FOR 13 DAYS: Yes, it sure is.

S. CENTANNI: More than you know.

VAN SUSTEREN: I can only imagine. Well, let's start. First of all, did you guys work together before?

S. CENTANNI: Oh, yes. We go back six years. The first time we went to Pakistan to get ready for the war in Afghanistan we met there and went in together to Kabul on one of the first flights of journalists into Kabul, on a U.N. charter, and were there doing stories from Kabul for quite a while. And then years later, we were in Iraq a couple times together, and we've even had a scrape once before together. And Olaf can probably tell you about that.

WIIG: We were in that stand-off between Pakistan and India, the nuclear stand-off that occurred the very end of 2001 and the start of 2002. We thought, being as that we were in the area, we would pop up to Kashmir and have a look at what was going on up there. And we got escorted out by the Pakistan military right up onto the front line to film what was going on.

And on our way out, we got pulled over by a soldier on a motorcycle, and he said: "Oh, you know, I think you should come and talk to the local commander." And we said: "Oh, no, no, actually, we are in a bit of a hurry. We're going to go home." And we ended up being detained.

S. CENTANNI: He made it sound like a social visit — come on over for tea. He wants to meet you. He wants to talk to you. And well, yes, he wanted to talk to us. He wanted to figure out what we were doing up near the front lines, if we were spies or whatever, and took our tapes, held us and interrogated us for about an hour or more. It was a couple of hours, and so we...

WIIG: A little bit of fast talking...

S. CENTANNI: Yes, on Olaf's part. So as I say, I told Olaf: "We've got to stop meeting like this in these not-so-much-fun situations."

VAN SUSTEREN: So what happened? Take me back to that morning, Steve. I mean, ordinary day for you in Gaza?

S. CENTANNI: Ordinary. It was quiet. We weren't doing that many live shots because there was a ceasefire on the Lebanese border and things had quieted down in Gaza somewhat. So they were scheduling some live shots, but they got killed. Or that is, they were canceled. We were sitting around most of the day, waiting for one at around midday New York time, 12::00 12:30. It got canceled, and we said: "OK, let's go home back to the beach hotel and wait for our next assignment, our next booking."

And we decided to drop off our fixer and our security guy at their homes on the way. They all piled into the car that was parked in front, on the main street of Gaza City, and took — first dropped off the...

WIIG: Arafat..

S. CENTANNI: ... Arafat, the translator. And then we still had the security guy in the back seat. We were driving down a narrow street, heading near Gaza City, and just after we dropped off Arafat, we come to a T, where the street comes to a lane like this. And a car had stopped right in front of us. And we're going, OK, let's get moving. When's he going to move? And he didn't move. Instead of moving, we saw four masked men — or most of them masked, one of them hadn't had time to get his mask on. One never did get his mask on. They were heavily armed with Kalashnikovs and pistols, and they were — before we knew it, they were swarming over the front of our car, opening the front door, grabbing me by the wrist, pulling me out with a pistol at my head, and they did the same thing on Olaf's side.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where were you all? Were you the passenger?

(CROSSTALK)

WIIG: I was driving the vehicle, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And when you saw this, I mean, obviously, fear — I mean, I assume fear struck you.

S. CENTANNI: Yes.

WIIG: Yes.

S. CENTANNI: The first thing I said was, Oh, this is just great. But by that time, there's no more time for sarcasm. They were pulling us out and stuffing us in...

WIIG: It happened very, very quickly. I don't know whether, really, there was any time to actually be afraid of what was going on. It was much more a case of — you know, we're being pulled out of the car. There really wasn't time to react. And in hindsight, we were thinking, well, maybe we should have just locked the car. It was an armored SUV, so maybe if we'd locked the doors and driven away, then maybe the armor would have held out long enough against the small arms fire for us to get away, but...

S. CENTANNI: There was no place to get away to.

(CROSSTALK)

WIIG: No, it's not — there's no secure precinct in Gaza or a guarded area or somewhere that you could — so if they wanted to chase us, then they would have...

(CROSSTALK)

S. CENTANNI: Plus, we were on a narrow street with traffic behind us, as well. There was one car blocking us in front, narrow sidewalks with people walking up and down in a commercial district, and really nowhere to drive to if we'd tried to hunker down and escape them.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did they do? They throw you in the car at gunpoint. Hide, cover your eyes?

WIIG: They put Steve in the car first. And I was the last out of our vehicle because the car was still in gear and I was trying to tell the guy, just let me sort myself out here and get out of — and they were trying to pull me out of the car. And we were stuffed in the back of a pick-up truck, just in the back seat of a pick-up truck. And the gunmen took off their masks and put them over our heads, and then held our heads down, made sure that we couldn't look out the front of the car.

S. CENTANNI: We were jammed into the middle of this small back seat of a small pick-up truck, right up against each other and pushed down against each other, and the two gunmen on each side were crowded in on top of us, pushing us down. It was so tight back there, they could barely get their doors shut when they pulled away. And that's when the mask or the hood was pulled over our heads and...

WIIG: If we'd made any sort of obvious attempt to follow what was going on or try and look out the windows, then you would be reminded that there was a man with a pistol there with a little knock on the top of your head and...

S. CENTANNI: Yes, bang you on the head, Get down!

WIIG: You know, Get down.

VAN SUSTEREN: How long was the ride? I mean, I take it at some point, you went someplace.

S. CENTANNI: Yes.

WIIG: Yes.

S. CENTANNI: It was about 10 minutes, we think, 10 to 15 minutes. And we sensed we were going toward the setting sun because there was a lot of bright sky before us, and we figured we were heading west toward the ocean until we stopped at this little beach camp, is what we call it, a little way station where there was — where we were handed over to another guy and — some other people, more than one guy — and shoved into a tent and pushed down onto a mat and had the plastic ties — hands tied behind our backs so our hands couldn't move. We were handcuffed together, and a blindfold was put on over the hood, so that you really couldn't see anything anymore.

WIIG: And all our, you know, personal possessions, telephones and money and wallets and anything...

S. CENTANNI: That's when they took all our stuff.

WIIG: Anything that was accessible to us that, you know, might be useful to us was taken off us at that point.

S. CENTANNI: Searched our pockets and took everything. Then they shoved us into the back seat of a Volkswagen van, and we drove again, again not more than 10 or 15 minutes. All this was somewhat in the vicinity of Gaza City, but we don't know exactly where we ended up.

So we drive into a — oh, this is — and this is where it starts getting even worse. We hear a garage door opening, and the car goes in, closes behind us. A huge generator is going somewhere in the room. It's black. We can't see anything. Big rumbling generator. And my first thought was, oh, great, blindfolded, handcuffed in a remote warehouse someplace with a loud generator going, who would know?

WIIG: And I guess the same sort of thoughts are going through my mind, except for the fact that there's no logic to it. You know, if you wanted to assassinate somebody, there's no — it's kind of a lawless place.

S. CENTANNI: You could have done it anywhere, that's right.

WIIG: They could have just walked up to us in the street and put a pistol to our head and shot us. So it didn't make sense that they were going to kill us...

S. CENTANNI: No, that's right.

WIIG: ... but you can't help that going through your head.

S. CENTANNI: You think that, and you also tell yourself that you're no good to them dead, and that's what keeps you going. So you have no choice here but to calm down.

So they take us inside this warehouse, or a garage as it turns out to be later, shove us face down onto the dirt floor, make sure we were just face down with our hands secured behind our backs, blindfolded, not knowing who's in the room with us and...

WIIG: It's too loud for us to communicate. I tried to call out to Steve...

S. CENTANNI: The generator, yes.

WIIG: ... and say, you know, Steve, are you there? And I get no reply, but I get a boot on top of my face just to remind me that...

S. CENTANNI: Shut up!

WIIG: ... we're there and not to talk anymore.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you couldn't see each other enough even if each other was alive?

WIIG: No.

S. CENTANNI: No. But after the generator stopped, we knew we were together because I said, Olaf, are you there? And he said, yes — not happy. But he said, I hurt all over, or something like that. But we knew there were guys watching us, so we couldn't talk too much because they'd go, Shhh, and if we tried to sit up against the concrete wall to ease the tension on the shoulder and wrists, the plastic ties digging into your skin, they would let you sit there for a couple minutes and then push you back down again, face down on the cement floor.

WIIG: I tried to sort of lighten the situation by...

S. CENTANNI: Oh! Yes.

WIIG: ... by suggesting to Steve that this was a really good excuse not to do any more live shots that evening.

S. CENTANNI: No more live shots today.

WIIG: Yes, got off of the rest of our rotation.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: How long were you in the garage?

S. CENTANNI: It felt like three days, but it might have been no more than two hours. What did you think, something like that, two hours?

WIIG: It could have been as little as three quarters of an hour and as much as two. But time had really slowed down. You were...

(CROSSTALK)

S. CENTANNI: ... and panicking and not knowing what was going to happen, if you were going to get shot or turned loose or killed.

WIIG: You don't know your senses are so dulled by the loud noise and not being able to see anything and the sort of physical pain that you — that it's really hard to know just how long we were there. But I would say no longer than two hours.

VAN SUSTEREN: So then what was the next — what happened next?

S. CENTANNI: Well, I hear Olaf being shuffled out. There's movement. Somebody's escorting him out of that area, where we were down in the dirt. And I go, oh God, will I ever see him or hear from him again? He's gone.

But shortly thereafter, they take me out, too. But we go to different places originally. I'm taken into a room and sat down, and I'm complaining about my wrists because they're really digging into my skin. And they start fiddling with it to see what they can do to make sure my circulation was still there and they're not really causing any — this is when I got an inkling they really are not going to hurt us. They want to intimidate us, capture us but not hurt us that badly because they did release me temporarily. Oh, great, good, I can move. But then they put it back on again, they thought in a better way, but it wasn't better at all. It was really bad. And I was in that room. And Olaf, meantime, had been taken somewhere else first.

WIIG: Yes, I just got taken into a room. There was a mattress on the floor. And so things, you know, things are looking up. It looks like they've made some sort of provision for us. So I'm thinking, OK, well, they surely can't keep us tied up for that much longer. There must be at least some intention that where we are is going to be secure.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did they say anything to you? At that point, did you have any idea who they were or what they wanted?

S. CENTANNI: Not at that point.

WIIG: The only thing, really, that had been said to us is when we had first got in the truck, when we were first captured, and Steve said, where are we going?

S. CENTANNI: Where are we going.

WIIG: What are we doing?

S. CENTANNI: I didn't — I don't think...

WIIG: And the guy...

S. CENTANNI: ... they spoke English anyway.

WIIG: The next guy next to me said, You're going to hell.

S. CENTANNI: And I didn't hear that. He told me this later.

VAN SUSTEREN: They took you then to another house, to another place, right?

S. CENTANNI: The beach camp was the transfer point. They took us to the first house. Olaf calls it a mosque. There was a loud call to prayer that may have been coming from the same building, and he heard prayers upstairs. But we wound up in the same room together, finally, to get us into the first house that fist night — just to move the story along. But blindfolded still, with our hands like this for a while longer, another couple of hours just sitting there with a guard in the room making sure we don't get loose, that we don't talk to each other.

And ultimately, a guy comes in — two guys come in and are talking to each other and assessing the situation. And they turn out to be some of the ringleaders, we believe, and they decided, well, take the blindfolds off, take the handcuffs off. The real hard part is over.

WIIG: Yes. You sort of immediately feel that these guys — it's amazing — you know, I did psychology at university, and "Stockholm Syndrome," where you feel empathetic or sympathetic to the cause of the people who are looking after you. And it's incredible how strong that is because if they just remove one hardship at a time, if they give you a drink of water or — and I feel — I think it's, you know, a deliberate sort of process of just incrementally making your life better for you. And every time your life is improved a little bit better, you feel more grateful to your captors.

S. CENTANNI: And it was a huge relief, of course, not to be in such great pain. But I didn't feel particularly benevolent toward them, but it was incrementally getting better, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how did — we need to jump it ahead a little bit. We have a whole hour, but I'm curious — how do you get out of this? I mean, what happened during the week? Did they talk to you?

S. CENTANNI: Well, we were moved — the second night, we were moved to another house, with another gang of people who turned out to be our keepers for most of the time. We stayed in this house most of the time. The same three people looked after us most of the time, with another guy who was sort of the local ringleader for that house coming and going some of the time. And that's where we spent a lot of the time.

And they showed their faces, these three guys, and their boss kept his face covered. And they said a lot of things, yes. The first night, before we — I'm jumping ahead — before we moved to that second house, the first night, we met our English interpreter, who barely spoke any English. But we were so relieved to have somebody who we could finally talk to, make our case, find out what they wanted, tell them a little bit about ourselves, that we told him everything that we could that might help us about how we came to Palestine to tell this side of the story.

VAN SUSTEREN: They were suspicious of you.

S. CENTANNI: Well, they were, and that came out in a vivid way much later. We didn't know at first if they even knew who we were. We just happened to be the handiest target. But they found out soon enough because they were referring to things that they knew I had done as a journalist later.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did it vividly become apparent they were suspicious of Steve? How did you learn that?

WIIG: After about day five of the thing, they'd been talking a lot right from the start about making a video or sending a letter initially to President Bush, and that was kind of one of the motivation appeared to be mostly about making a video. And so we'd been asked to write a whole bunch of scripts for these videos.

And the situation had just got more and more tense. And then I was taken out of the room and escorted down into another room, which we hadn't, at that stage, been into. And seated in one corner of the room where it was very dark was a character that I didn't even know was there until I'd sat down on the scrub for a while and realized that there was somebody sitting in front of me. And I made him — you know, just this dark shadowy figure with two AK-47s propped up against the wall behind him and a saber on the floor in front of him. And you know, images of those videos that you see of, you know, hostage situations in Iraq flash before your eyes. And then this person starts an interrogation. He's introduced as Abu Halad II. We called him...

(CROSSTALK)

S. CENTANNI: ... there was a second one. They introduced the first guy, ringleader, in the other house as Abu Halad, as well. This was also Abu Halad.

WIIG: And he starts an interrogation, and he wants to know what I know about Islam. He wants to know who I think Jesus was and who Mohammed was. And he then — once we'd sort of discussed this, and I said: "Look, I need your help here. I need you to tell me about it. I'm very, you know, interested to learn about Islam. You know, It's probably remiss of me to have spent so much time working in the Middle East and know so little about it. Can you teach me a little about it?"

And so I got a very — you know, a long debrief on Islam. And in amongst that conversation, there was a discussion about how the problems of the Muslim world and the West could be solved if the West converted to Islam and that it would be — you know, it would be good if we converted, too, and that we — at that point, the very, very most sort of sinister side of it came out. They'd said, "You're free to go." And then just at the last minute, they stopped me and they said, "Tell us about Steve." And they — at that point, they told me that they believed he was CIA, FBI, an informer for the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, that he was there as a spy and...

S. CENTANNI: An American soldier.

WIIG: Yes, an American soldier in Iraq — that it was him that had informed the American military on Uday and Qusay, and that's why he was the first on the scene.

And I said, "Look, you know, he's just a journalist, he's only here to do the job. He's a friend of the Palestinian people," and tried to explain what it was we were doing there. But the interpretation between us and the boss man was so bad that I kept on hearing words that I knew were not correct. And they kept putting in Gilad Shalit and talking about, you know, the Israeli soldier that's being held captive down there. And I knew that what I was saying wasn't getting through, and it was very frustrating.

And then the conversation basically ended with them saying, You're a New Zealander. We know New Zealand doesn't kill Muslims. Unfortunately for you, you're with an American and a very, very dangerous American, and we're going to kill him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you know that? Did you...

S. CENTANNI: And I didn't know this, that that was the content of their conversation, until after we won our freedom. Olaf was kind enough not to...

WIIG: I didn't want to...

S. CENTANNI: ... scare me.

WIIG: I didn't want to stress Steve out.

(CROSSTALK)

WIIG: I knew right from the start that because we — culturally, that we've got something that can define difference there, that potentially, my chances of getting out of the situation were better than Steve's. And we had talked about, you know, if you get out before me. Steve had given me a note to pass on to his family members and all of that sort of thing.

S. CENTANNI: And that somewhat had independently realized I'm more of a prize or, you know — that they — I'm more of a target than is he because I'm on television and they know my track record at FOX. I think they'd Googled my name and discovered I was — had been at Uday and Qusay's house after it was attacked — and of course, I didn't, we didn't know the U.S. was going to do that, of course.

WIIG: I thought that being that he was under such huge strain and pressure, that the very least I could do as a friend of his was to at least, you know, remove that pressure from him.

VAN SUSTEREN: There is a special bond between people who work in the field, producers and...

WIIG: Oh, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean...

S. CENTANNI: Especially internationally, when you're overseas in troubled war zones...

WIIG: You spend so much time together.

S. CENTANNI: ... everything is...

(CROSSTALK)

WIIG: Seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

S. CENTANNI: In unpredictable, dangerous environments. And you seek out friendship and solace from your co-workers. And we have always had a good relationship that way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you have any clue after Olaf came back that they had told him they wanted to kill you?

S. CENTANNI: He looked kind of grim. And I said, "What?" because they were going to call me in next for my little interview. And I said, "What do I need to know? What did they say?" And he said, "Oh, it was basically just a big pep talk on Islam, actually." And he didn't really tell me anything about that they were determined to kill me.

VAN SUSTEREN: At some point we saw a tape. First of all, the clothes — where did you get those clothes?

S. CENTANNI: They bought us some track suits in the first house, in the mosque.

WIIG: I think it's a process of sort of stripping back your identity.

S. CENTANNI: They took away our clothes.

WIIG: Take away all your bits and pieces, take away your rings, take away anything that sort of defines who you are to make you...

S. CENTANNI: Strip away your identity and...

WIIG: It's a process, I feel. It's a process of humiliation.

S. CENTANNI: Yes. And we wore these track suits that were quite unattractive, as you can see right now. Mine said "Motorcycle" and yours said...

(CROSSTALK)

S. CENTANNI: They were ugly but they were comfortable because we slept on foam mats like that in the hot, sticky night, with the window open sometimes, usually closed. And at least they were comfortable. And they gave us plastic sandals to walk around in to the bathroom and back again. And they brought us food and water. We sometimes had to struggle for water. They didn't bring enough. They didn't realize we like to drink a lot of water.

VAN SUSTEREN: The video — how did that come about?

S. CENTANNI: Well...

WIIG: We'd got to a point where it was very obvious that this was one of their main goals and that we had talked about it and we had decided that no matter what the video was they wanted us to do, that it was a good idea to do it just because chances are they'd want to get it straight out there and broadcast it, and at least, no matter what they asked us to do, our families would have the opportunity of knowing we were alive.

S. CENTANNI: Right. And they'd talked about a video almost from the beginning, or at least a letter. First they said, Can you write a letter, tell President Bush Islam is good. You know, don't invade Iraq. Free the prisoners from Guantanamo and from — all the Muslim prisons in Abu Ghraib.

(CROSSTALK)

WIIG: ... things like, you know, Islamic fascists and that had obviously really struck a cord there.

S. CENTANNI: Yes, they were very angry about that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you, I mean, look, Steve, you and I have talked about these videos before. You know, I mean, it's never a good sign when you're on a video.

S. CENTANNI: No, but it was good for that one — we didn't know what was going to happen. And Olaf reminded them when they first suggested, Tomorrow we tape or now — are you ready to make video? And he told them, Actually, that's not a good idea for us. I'll tell you why. We remember seeing the videos from Iraq, and of course, we vividly remember seeing people beheaded on some of those videos. And they laugh and joke among themselves, saying, Oh, Zarqawi, yes, Zarqawi, but that is Iraq. We are Palestinians. We don't do that. We don't kill people like that.

Well, we didn't believe them for a minute. We didn't know what was going to happen, of course. You can't — you couldn't believe them. But the one good thing about making those videos was the one they aired at first was the one we did want to get out, to let people know we were alive and fairly well and being taken care of and in good health. And before that, I think nobody did know for sure that we were alive.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you know that everybody was working very hard to get you out? Did you have any clue as to how much attention the rest of us had on this?

S. CENTANNI: Clues, no. Hopes, yes. Deep-down belief, yes, that people know, they must know, and people are trying to do whatever they can. They must be doing that. And you have to believe that. But solid evidence? No, because we saw no television. We heard radio occasionally. It was all Arabic, very few English words at all. So we had — and we knew nothing about the coverage.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Steve, Olaf, if you'll stay right there for a moment. Take a quick break.

Later in the show: Thirteen 13 days of hell ended when Steve and Olaf were finally released. FOX's Jennifer Griffin was there every step of the way, doing everything humanly possible for her colleagues. And now she's here with that story.

But first, we all watched the 72-hour deadline come and go. No one knew what did or did not happen at that point to Steve and Olaf. All their families knew and we knew is that neither Steve nor Olaf was free. Next, Steve's brother and Olaf's wife tell us how they got through those 13 frightening days by taking action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WIIG: I guess I would ask for myself and I know my family will already be doing this but if you could apply any political pressure on the local government here in Gaza and the West Bank that would be much appreciated by both Steve and myself. I know, Anita, you will already be doing that. To my family, I love you all. Please don't worry. I'll do all the worrying for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: But you can bet Olaf and Steve's families did worry as they waited 13 long days never knowing were they dead or alive? Were they being hurt? Would they be freed?

Joining us here in New York are Olaf's wife, Anita McNaught, and Steve's brother Ken Centanni. Steve and Olaf, of course, are still with us. Anita, where were you when you first heard?

ANITA MCNAUGHT, WIFE OF FREED HOSTAGE OLAF WIIG: I was in Damascus.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doing what?

MCNAUGHT: I'd been covering the war in Lebanon for New Zealand television. I'd been there two weeks. We'd been all over the place and it had been hard and I'd gone several nights without sleep, filed quite a few features and some interviews, and we packed up some very dusty bags and were heading back towards London, me and the crew.

I'd been in Damascus about four hours when the phone went. It was FOX News. I knew they weren't ringing to offer me a job. So, I sat down rather heavily on the bed and they said — it's John Moody. He said, "I'm sorry to call you like this but your husband has been abducted in Gaza and I've run to tell you."

And, I shook like a leaf but it was absolutely clear to me what I needed to do. I said, "Send a car for me. I'm going to Gaza. I'm going to Gaza now." And that's what happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, how did you hear?

KEN S. CENTANNI, BROTHER OF FREED HOSTAGE STEVE S. CENTANNI: Well, it was my birthday morning. I woke up expecting phone calls for birthday greetings of sort. And it was Bruce Becker with FOX News saying that my brother and his cameraman were abducted by armed gunmen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Steve is from a big family. How many siblings in this family do you guys have?

K. CENTANNI: Yes, it's a family of eight.

S. CENTANNI: Eight.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, you get on the horn and you have to be the bearer of bad news to everybody?

S. CENTANNI: Well, a lot of people happened to be at his house because it's also his sister's birthday, my oldest sister. She was born on the same days years apart, August 14th. And, another brother from Oregon had come down.

And, so there happened to be a large gathering of our siblings in his house at the time. And, I was getting ready later in the day to make phone calls to Ken and Janet and wish them both happy birthday but something came up.

K. CENTANNI: That's right something came up. Yes, there was — they weren't actually at the house but they were in the area.

S. CENTANNI: Oh, they weren't?

K. CENTANNI: And coming over to the house later on and so it was unusual that we were all together at this particular point.

S. CENTANNI: Yes, it is.

K. CENTANNI: They weren't actually in town to celebrate mine or my sister's birthday but my brother Jimmy was down to take care of some business with his son and so the family was together.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anita, you dashed off to Gaza. What was the strategy? I mean what did you have in mind was the way to fix this?

MCNAUGHT: Well, I didn't have a strategy as such because I was in the situation but I had simply never actually worked through it in my head before. Olaf reminded me after this was all over that we did have a conversation sometime back about what would happen if one of us was taken hostage in the course of our work.

I don't, unfortunately I don't remember that conversation. I don't think we went into details. But, I knew two things were absolutely clear to me — that something needed to be done and I was certain, the constructive role could be played by me there. I wasn't sure if it was unearthing people who were key in this or simply providing a focus for the efforts there but I had to be there.

And the other thing I was very aware of, and this is a sort of gut reaction, is that Olaf would need me there. He would need me there. He would need to know I was there. He would need to know I was doing something. And he would need me the instant he emerged.

VAN SUSTEREN: But neither you — Olaf you had no clue that she was headed to Gaza. I mean you got no information from the outside.

WIIG: No.

S. CENTANNI: No, he didn't have information but he told me, "I'm sure Anita is in Gaza."

WIIG: I knew straightaway. You know I knew my mother would have a really tough time of it but I, you know, right from the top I thought, "Oh, well Anita will be here probably by tomorrow." You know I knew that she was not far away anyway.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did you think we were doing, Steve, at FOX News?

S. CENTANNI: I could only guess and we went through scenarios between ourselves about well, first, did they know? Yes, they had to have known. It happened in broad daylight on a busy street and our security guy was involved in the back seat and he would have gone and reported it. So, yes, they knew.

OK, then what's the next step? Do they report it? Do they make a huge breaking news story out of it or cover it up and try to keep the lid on it? We speculated about that. And it turns out that you did do that for a few days even though you reported it you didn't make a big story, huge story out of it. We were thinking...

WIIG: Logical reason, if no one says anything about it and the people are waiting for a reaction and no one says anything about it, these guys are obviously duds. We'll throw them back and find someone else.

S. CENTANNI: Well and they're not getting the reaction they expected. It didn't make a big splash and so they are discouraged and give up, so that could have been the scenario, the outcome, but it wasn't. We spent more time there.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, we got a lot of e-mails here at FOX News wondering why, you know, we were virtually, it seemed like we were enduring it. We were reporting it like it was a small news item.

S. CENTANNI: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meanwhile, behind the scenes it was, you know, everyone was working as hard as they could.

S. CENTANNI: Well there was a huge effort.

VAN SUSTEREN: A huge effort.

S. CENTANNI: And when I learned about it these are the things I imagined that people might be doing but I had no way of knowing that. We never saw television or heard radio and didn't know.

MCNAUGHT: Of the 28-odd hostage takings that there had been since 2003...

VAN SUSTEREN: They had all been released.

MCNAUGHT: ...well they'd all been released but also getting resolved within — many of them had been resolved — well the longest one went on for a week. Most of them had been resolved three, four days in.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anita, Ken, thank you both very much. Steve and Olaf, I need you to stick by.

Later, it's the longest period of time any foreign hostages have been held in Gaza and thankfully it ended with the safe return of Olaf and Steve. FOX News Jennifer Griffin was there from start...

(NEWSBREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Up next "On the Record," more with now freed FOX journalist Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig and their families.

And later, what was going on behind the scenes to try and bring Olaf and Steve home safely?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: After nearly two weeks, emotions turned from fear to elation for the families of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig. Olaf and his wife, Anita, and Steve and his brother, Ken, are still with us.

Anita, you get the call. You're in Damascus from John Moody, FOX News. You start down to Gaza. So, explain how this worked, what the strategy was, a change?

MCNAUGHT: Well, to call it a strategy would be implying deliberation that the circumstances simply didn't permit. What you are is absolutely desperate to get the man you love out there alive. And you know you're working in a number of ways. And I mean hindsight gives a clarity and assurance to this that I can guarantee I didn't feel in the early week.

But, basically you're after a number of things. You need to find information out about where he might be, who might have him, and then find out the why. And, in finding out the why, perhaps you find an answer to how to get him out.

You're trying to take he cultural temperature, you know. Is hostage taking a popular thing or an unpopular thing? What's the public mood? Is there going to be a way that you can get the public on side in some way to get pressure applied from behind, if you like, to release him?

You're looking to find sympathetic people who will go beyond what is safe or normal for them to take you to information that might find them. And, in addition, you're trying to get some kind of reassurance or message to the guys who are in there and you don't know what they're going to find out from it.

Is it going to be from the radio, from the TV, from something someone tells them? You're trying to get something to them so they know they have something to hang onto and something to hope for.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken, what, I mean you're sort of at a disadvantage. You're way across the country in California, your family just waiting by the phone. How did you deal with this?

K. CENTANNI: Well, it's a very difficult circumstance. You don't know what to do. You don't know where to turn and who to call. We were very fortunate that Jennifer Griffin kept us informed. Bruce Becker called often and he had indicated to me that Jennifer Griffin was kind of doing a little investigating on our behalf and I really appreciate that.

MCNAUGHT: Which is something of an understatement I have to say.

K. CENTANNI: And then it turned out that she was doing a massive amount of work. And she was kind enough that evening when the entire family was at the house to basically do a conference call with us all and she just went just a fountain of information.

We were so pleased. It kept us feeling confident that this is going to be a short term kidnapping and that these things occur all the time and we shouldn't worry. Well, as days started to tick off it started to get scarier and scarier.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anita, you're a journalist as well with Steve and Olaf. Do you have any fears about going back?

MCNAUGHT: Everything has changed now in Gaza. This was an unforeseen and tragic event that has shocked Gazans to the core. And one of the extraordinary things was, I talked about you taking the public temperature, in fact what happened was that Gazans came to us and said, "We're appalled by this."

They came to us as individuals. They came to us as mothers and wives of prisoners in Israeli jails. And they came to us as journalists. And they came to us as politicians. There wasn't anyone we met who didn't think this was disastrous.

That being said, it happened and it took so long to resolve because the situation ended up being so intractable, the people involved so unreachable. We are in a new phase in Gaza and that's something that everyone has to weigh out before they go back.

S. CENTANNI: And let me just add the tragic result we all feared came about because our kidnapping scared away foreign journalists. They all pulled out immediately after this happened. They didn't want to be there anymore and so they were cutting their own throats so to speak, working against their own interests by driving away foreign journalists.

MCNAUGHT: I mean there's no question that I had a measure of personal immunity during the time there. There's no question, yes, there was every question about whether I did. But I certainly felt and I think I had to believe because I wasn't going to go that being the wife and being to a degree the campaigner, a campaigner on behalf of Steve as well as on behalf of my husband, because I never mentioned one name. It was always two. It had to be two.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it was two to all of us as well as we watched.

MCNAUGHT: Yes, absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken.

S. CENTANNI: And, Olaf said to me, let me just say one thing before I forget. Olaf said to me, "These guys didn't realize they had Anita McNaught to deal with." And we had her on our side. Had they known that they may not have pulled this off. They may not have even tried it.

MCNAUGHT: You're very sweet.

S. CENTANNI: That's what Olaf said.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ken and Anita, thank you both very much.

Steve and Olaf, of course, are staying with us for the full hour.

Coming up next, to everyone's surprise, including Steve and Olaf, they were dropped off at a Gaza City hotel on Sunday, free at last, and obviously emotional.

FOX's Jennifer Griffin fought hard for their release. She joins us next with the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: FOX's Jennifer Griffin played a giant role in Steve and Olaf's release. She joins us here in New York I proudly say. And, Steve and Olaf are still with us as well.

Jennifer, tell us what happened.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I have to correct the record, Greta. There were so many people helping us. A lot of people you won't ever know who they were. They were shadowy people who came in from other countries and helped.

There were from our own bureau, Eli Fastman and I got the call right about five hours after the ceasefire in Lebanon occurred, and we got the call that these guys had been snatched. Eli Fastman is our bureau chief.

S. CENTANNI: In Jerusalem.

GRIFFIN: In Jerusalem and he's Israeli, so for him — and basically at first light in the morning we drove straight from — after being up all night drove straight from Kiryat Shmona — where all the Katyushas had been landing — down to Gaza Strip, and crossed into Gaza. It was very dangerous for Eli to do that. He's an Israeli and Israelis have not been in Gaza for a long time.

We went straight to work. Anita met up with us. And the first day and the first five days we really hit the ground running, started meeting with anyone and everyone who could possibly be of any use.

We met with warlords. We met with head of Hamas, Fatah, Al Aqsa Brigade, popular resistance committees. Islamic Jihad offered to help us. We would meet with anyone at the lowest level and the top level.

We met with President Mahmoud Abbas, got his assurances that he would help. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas, the prime minister but most importantly I remember one night, Friday night, we got called, it was about 2:00 in the morning, to go to a location and we thought we were meeting with a leader who had influence over the Al Aqsa Brigade.

And when we showed up we had bodyguards with us and we showed up and we realized it wasn't quite the meeting we thought and we didn't really know where we were being taken and it was a dark alley, no electricity in Gaza because the Israelis had knocked out the power plant in a previous strike.

So, we're sitting in this darkened — we walk out and we see suddenly out of the shadows Said Siyam who is the minister of interior for Hamas, head of the popular resistance committee, which is another shadowy group that's done a lot of bad stuff in the past, and this representative of the Al Aqsa Brigade and Fatah.

It was like sitting with the Mafia dons of all of the factions in Gaza, the Islamists, all of the guys had come together and were sitting there and we basically listened to them for a few minutes and realized that we were being just absolutely played and that there was some internal Palestinian thing going on.

And we stopped the meeting. We were sitting there. Now I remember it was dark and we only had the spotlights from the headlights of the vehicles around us. And behind the interior minister all these gunmen with long beards and looking very ferocious and then competing gunmen from Fatah on the other side and we're in this circle.

And we eventually got extremely angry with them and we took a real risk. We heard the Israeli drone up over our head, which is a very menacing sound. And I thought, oh, if we get taken out in an air strike right now this is not good.

So, we confronted them and we said: "We through our own sleuthing and our own journalists on the ground and friends who are helping us had pieced together — we had found that there was one family that we thought was involved in this." And we said, "Why haven't you arrested and why haven't you questioned them?"

But we basically read them the riot act and got very emotional with them and demanded that we be let out of this game because it was clearly a game between Palestinian groups. We didn't know if it was Hamas or Fatah or what it was. And it was quite a stunning moment and it was a real turning point in this. As a result of it, we started getting threats against our team.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is obviously something more that we didn't need to deal with.

We're going to take a quick break if all of you will just stay with us. We'll be right back with much more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: We're back.

Steve, you got the word you were going home or getting free.

S. CENTANNI: After promising time and time again, "You go home in a few days, time is short, you're going to be freed," we didn't believe them. Finally, they wake us up in the middle of the night on the early morning of the day we were freed and came in and announced, wake us up and say, "You go home today. You go home this morning."

And we still didn't want to believe it because we didn't want to have that crushing disappointment when it didn't turn out to be true. But, it did turn out to be true. We waited about four or five hours. They said, "Around noon we're going to take you back to the Gaza Beach Hotel." We go, "Oh, yes, sure."

But we did. He put a kafiya, a red and white checked cloth, over his head. I put a hat on. They escorted us out. "Keep your head down." Put us in the back of a beat up old car, made us keep our heads down and drove us through the streets.

VAN SUSTEREN: Olaf.

WIIG: And, the first thing we know is that with the — I feel the car reversing back and the driver who was one of our guards just said to me...

S. CENTANNI: Get out.

WIIG: So, you know, Olaf, go. And I lit out of the car, looked and realized that we were indeed in front of the hotel and ran down and there I was.

VAN SUSTEREN: And there it was. And a great news story, Jennifer, Olaf, Steve, thank you, nice to see all of you.

Goodnight from New York.

Content and Programming Copyright 2006 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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