Published January 13, 2015
Two kidnapped FOX News journalists freed by gunmen last Sunday described in chilling detail how their abductors calmly discussed killing one of them.
"Unfortunately for you, you were with an American," camerman Olaf Wiig said his captors told him. "A dangerous American… and we’re going to kill him," referring to fellow hostage reporter Steve Centanni.
Centanni and Wiig told their story exclusively to FOXNews’ Greta Van Susteren on FOX News’ On The Record.
The two journalists were freed last Sunday two weeks after they were kidnapped from their car on Aug. 14 by masked gunmen near the headquarters of the Palestinian security forces in Gaza City.
Wiig said the kidnapper’s suggestion came during a conversation about Islam. “I told them, ‘I need you to tell me about it (Islam),’” Wiig said he told his captors. “ They discussed how the problems of the Muslim world and the west could be solved if the west converted to Islam… then it got sinister,” he said.
“I said, ‘he’s just a journalist… a friend of the Palestinian people,” Wiig said.
“The first thing I said was, ‘this is just great,’” Centanni said, describing the moment the two journalists came to face to face with the gunmen.
“There was no place to get away,” Wiig said. “We were on a narrow street…there was no where to drive.”
They told how their captors would rap them on the head with guns to remind them not to talk and that their lives were constantly in danger.
“I said, ‘Steve, are you there?” Wiig said. “I get a boot on top of my face to not talk anymore.”
Centanni said neither man knew of the extraordinary efforts being made on their behalf to secure their release.
“Clues, no; hopes yes,” Centanni said when asked whether he thought people knew of their abduction and were trying to get them out. “Solid evidence, no.”
Centanni said their captors forced them to make videos, but that one of the videos had a positive result.
“The good thing about making those videos is the one they aired first… to let people know were alive,” he said.
A previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigade claimed responsibility for their abduction.
Centanni, 60, said the kidnappers pulled him and Wiig, 36, out of their car and took them at gunpoint into another car. The kidnappers then blindfolded both men and handcuffed their hands behind their backs with plastic ties, and shoved them down into a pickup. They were then transferred to another car, a VW bus, and driven to a building that they later learned was a garage.
The kidnappers later issued a demand for the release of all Muslim prisoners in the United States. The U.S. State Department and New Zealand officials quickly rejected the demand, saying they would not negotiate with terrorists.
The families of both men — Centanni's brother Ken, and Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, who both appeared with the men as they described their ordeal — appealed to the kidnappers for the safe return of their loved ones.
At the time of the kidnapping, the U.S. State Department said that it had no information on the group. Senior Palestinian security officials said the group was a front for local militants, and that Palestinian authorities had known the identity of the kidnappers from the start.
"The kidnappers have no link to Al Qaeda or any other organization or faction," Haniyeh declared on Sunday. "Al Qaeda as an organization does not exist in the Gaza Strip."
A third group, the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed Sunday it had helped mediate the release of the journalists.
In chaotic Gaza, gunmen often change their affiliation or form splinter groups. Their agendas are often driven by personal issues — including jobs, money and power for their clans — rather than by ideology.
In the past two years, Palestinian militants have seized more than two- dozen foreigners, usually to settle personal scores, but released them unharmed within hours. The FOX News journalists were held longer than any others.