Menu

ARCHIVE

Behind the Negotiations To Free Hostages Centanni & Wiig

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 31, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: As we continue on "Hannity & Colmes", after two weeks in captivity our colleagues, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, are with their families and friends tonight.

And you have heard the story of their kidnapping, their confinement and, of course, their very emotional release. But tonight you're going to hear the intricate details of the detective work that brought them home safely.

Here with us tonight, FOX's own Steve Centanni.

Boy, I'm glad to see you.

STEVE CENTANNI, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I'm glad to be here. You bet I'm glad, yes.

HANNITY: And our chief Middle East correspondent, Jennifer Griffin.

Jennifer, I see you on satellite all the time. It's nice to have you here.

Look, the story is amazing and we're all very thankful. And I know everybody from the top levels of this company worked so hard day and night to get you out. And we're glad you're here.

You told that story. Let's talk a little bit about how, what went on behind-the-scenes.

CENTANNI: Big story. A lot of people involved.

HANNITY: Jennifer, I know you were involved.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I was involved, but there were a lot of people involved. And the people, if you start from the top, Eli Kazan, our bureau chief in Jerusalem, was intricate in this. He took great risk going into Gaza. No Israelis are in Gaza except for this poor Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was kidnapped.

HANNITY: Yes.

GRIFFIN: The Jerusalem bureau had set up a situation room where we were feeding data into them. We had bulletin boards and we were coming up with theories.

We had consultants from an IDF, Israeli hostage negotiation unit who was talking us through every meeting. We would sometimes — he would ask us who was in the meeting, what was their body language like. That person was lying.

And you know, we were getting a lot of help. Then there were the Palestinians, the guys we worked with down in Gaza. They were the best detectives. It was like a "Columbo" episode, the way they would go about. They managed to get a tape from a bank that showed the kidnappers.

HANNITY: You know, one of the things, Steve, you went in there to tell the story of the Palestinians here.

CENTANNI: That's what we tried to tell them from the first time we were able to talk to anybody. And tried to make a defense for ourselves. We did go to tell their story to the world and to try to help them, in a sense. Not to take sides but to be the conduit which that side of a very complex story is told.

HANNITY: But in that sense they would have been cut off from the world. Or at least...

CENTANNI: They are now.

HANNITY: ... because who's going to go in there now?

GRIFFIN: Well, that's why we always felt safe operating there. We felt that the Palestinians needed us more than — it outweighed the danger. And so we felt like we were taking calculated risks, going into places like Gaza and the West Bank, because they need the press and they know that.

CENTANNI: Not everybody does that, and to FOX's credit we try to keep somebody in there almost all the time.

HANNITY: No, I agree with that. But you know, it also points out that when you're in the field the way you are and you've been in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over the world. And Jennifer you've been there for years on end. And it shows how dangerous your jobs are to bring the news to the public.

CENTANNI: And getting more dangerous.

HANNITY: And it's getting more dangerous. I want to talk a little bit about — I have a friend, for example — I told you about him — who was very early on, Aaron. He works World Net Daily, and he tried everything we could do.

The intricate relationships that are built between the journalist community and even these terror groups. It's fascinating to me in one sense. It's like they want to work with you to get their side of the story out, even though we would define some of the groups...

GRIFFIN: They're very P.R. savvy, I think. That's why a lot of journalists who have strong relationships. It doesn't mean that you agree with their methods, but it means that you're going to listen to what they're saying because they are a factor there.

And they are sources. They are people. It's really one of the ways that we approach this story. We approached it as a story, in a way. We used journalistic techniques that we...

CENTANNI: To try to find out what happened.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Nice to meet you in person. And Steve, I don't think I've ever been this happy to have a guest on this show as you here tonight.

CENTANNI: Thank you.

HANNITY: You've got me here.

COLMES: That's a different story.

Did you have any idea that all this was going on? And clearly, you didn't know what was going on.

CENTANNI: We didn't know anything. We never saw television. We heard Arabic radio but nothing in English. And we were hoping and thinking that this exact same scenario was being played out, but we had no evidence. We didn't know for sure.

COLMES: Jennifer, how did you go about figuring out who was behind this? Because there were some great — no one knew, it seemed like, who was...

GRIFFIN: Well, one of the things that happened was, again, some of these Palestinian stringers and fixers that we've worked with over the years and we trust very much really hit the ground.

One thing they did, we went back and reconstructed — Elie and I, and Anita was with us — went back and reconstructed the scene. We talked to a witness there.

And they mentioned the type of car that was used. It was a green Mitsubishi Magnum. And they mentioned that the driver of the car was holding a cup from an ice cream shop that was on the same block that our office is on.

We went back to that ice cream shop. Now, if I went there and asked questions they weren't going to tell me anything. But some of our guys went down there, quietly talked to them. A cousin of one of them worked there. They got the whole story. They figured out who owned some of the vehicles.

We immediately got to — we figured out which clan was involved. And then we started pressuring the security services and the government, the top government levels, as to why they weren't going after these guys.

COLMES: Steve, when was the moment you knew, "All right, I'm going to be free?" When was that moment?

CENTANNI: When I was free. That was the only time I knew. You couldn't trust them. You couldn't believe them. They promised several times: "You go home in just two or three days. Don't worry. You'll go home. Just wait. It's a matter of time."

And then they said, "A very, very short time." And then they finally said on the morning we were released, they came in and woke us up in the middle of the night, turned on the light and made the announcement, "You go home today."

We still couldn't completely believe them.

COLMES: So they weren't threatening you?

CENTANNI: Well, they were threatening us and promising our freedom at the same time. They were threatening us. They had, you know, assault rivals and pistols and hand grenades and made it very clear they were the ones in charge and that we were in danger.

COLMES: From your standpoint was this very touch and go all along? And was there — you had no idea what the outcome was going to be?

GRIFFIN: We had no idea. At first we were working on the assumption that this was a garden variety Gaza kidnapping. And we've had other friends who were kidnapped down there, and they survived and they were never harmed.

And so we thought if we just sort of shook the tree and pushed some buttons down there and made our presence felt that they would be returned.

Once it dragged on and there were no demands made, it became a different story. And I think what is different about this case from other cases is that we see for the first time in Gaza the emergence of this kind of jihadi group that wants to make its presence felt.

There were several layers of people who were involved in this kidnapping, but one of the groups and the group that held you the longest were sort of groups, a group that wanted to...

CENTANNI: They emulated Al Qaeda and wanted to put themselves on the map as a budding new or Al Qaeda or jihadist group.

HANNITY: Why don't we get back to that when we return? I want to hear a little bit more about the different groups that you discovered or were a part of that.

We'll continue with more of this harrowing story right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLMES: We now continue with our special guest, FOX News' own Steve Centanni and Jennifer Griffin.

How do you explain the relationship between hostage and captor?

CENTANNI: Well, there were different levels of captors. We had the mob for hire, we think, who actually grabbed us off the streets. And we had some middlemen who probably were the actual kingpins who organized this whole thing, just like the Mafia or a street gang down there.

And then the ones who actually cared for us in the house for most of this time were these wannabe jihadists who tried to get very close to us, tried to establish a rapport. And we played along with that, because we knew it was our best chance.

If we were nice to them and they were nice to us, we were going to be put back in handcuffs or we weren't going to be mistreated. And we didn't know we'd be released.

COLMES: How did you maintain your composure?

CENTANNI: I don't know. Olaf and I had each other. We never got separated. And that was really important. Had we been individually held, we probably would have sunk into despair. But we had each other. We talked a lot. We played out all these possible scenarios. We speculated a lot. We told stories about our lives and about what we hoped for the future, and that gave us some strength.

COLMES: Jennifer, the fact that they are journalists, how did that play into this? We've got someone who's fairly well known, fairly high...

GRIFFIN: It's not that he were journalists. It's not that they were FOX News. It's not even that they were American or New Zealanders.

When the Israelis pulled out of Gaza a year ago and pulled out, there are no Israeli targets in Gaza left. So they couldn't grab an Israeli. They couldn't grab some of the few westerners left.

And don't forget, FOX News was one of the few organizations that kept people on the ground there when the Lebanon war was going on.

COLMES: They didn't know who he was, did they?

GRIFFIN: They grabbed a Westerner, a Westerner.

CENTANNI: Right. And then they checked the Internet. They soon did know who I was, because I was at the house where Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed a couple of hours after it happened. We were the first network on the scene.

They must have Googled me, found that out, and they accused me of being the one who guided the American forces to that house. I didn't.

COLMES: They thought you might have been — they thought you might be CIA.

CENTANNI: They thought that I was CIA, FBI, a spy for Israel, and a soldier in the American army. And they told Olaf I'm a very dangerous man and they're going to kill me.

HANNITY: Go back. This is fascinating to me, the detective work. Step by step, systematically, how you figured out who was responsible.

CENTANNI: Yes.

HANNITY: Explain that.

GRIFFIN: A lot of luck in the beginning, but our guys are Palestinians, the guys we work with down there, Mohammad, Naol, and Arafat. They hit the ground, and they did things like, again, they went to this ice cream store and they questioned the guy there.

They realized that there was a bank next door and that there was a videotape from a camera that...

CENTANNI: A surveillance camera.

GRIFFIN: ... a surveillance camera that would have seen the car and the people in the car as they waited for 15 minutes outside our office.

They went, and they did that. They went to phone company and they checked phone records. All roads led to one family that was pretty well known there.

And then we started what Elie and Anita and I did, is that we started confronting the Hamas leaders that we were meeting with, the Fatah leaders that we were meeting with, President Abbas and saying why aren't you calling these guys in? We know that they have them.

And we didn't know but we suspected, and all the evidence was leading in that direction. And then we started pushing hard for them to start honing in on this particular group.

HANNITY: And this goes to the issue you mentioned earlier, that they were very politically savvy and very P.R. savvy.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely.

HANNITY: How did that come together?

GRIFFIN: Well, which group are you talking about?

HANNITY: What you're saying is, is that politically you started to put the pressure on them. They're P.R. savvy so that's what did it?

GRIFFIN: One of the things that affected the Palestinian government, the Hamas government and President Abbas and Fatah is this became intensely unpopular on the streets of Gaza.

And one of the ways that we handled that was that — and this was part of the campaign — Anita, we organized a journalist rally. And we put a lot of pressure saying that journalists aren't going to be able to operate here. They're not going to be able to tell the Palestinian story.

So all these women's groups came forward. They were having marches in Gaza. They were opposed to this and this helped pressure people to say it's not...

HANNITY: Last question. Do you have any idea how life changing this is?

CENTANNI: Not yet. I certainly appreciate the little things. I was overwhelmed to see my family waiting for me outside the hotel here in New York and to hear about people all around the world who were following this case and cared a lot about us, me and Olaf. And I was overwhelmed by that. I appreciate life a little bit more the little things the family.

HANNITY: We're glad you're here. Very glad to see you.

COLMES: We're extremely happy you are here. Thank you for the hard work you've done to help make this moment happen.

Thank you both very, very much.

Watch "Hannity & Colmes" weeknights at 9 p.m. ET!

Copy: 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.