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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kidnapped American Journalist Released

Aired August 22, 2004 - 14:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. This just in: American journalist 36-year-old Micah Garen, who has been held for more than a week now in Iraq against his will has apparently been freed. He has now been released.
Garen, along with his Iraqi interpreter, were kidnapped by two armed men in Nasiriya, and apparently upon Garen's release, he has been interviewed by Arab television, Al Jazeera. Our Octavia Nasr is on the telephone. She listened to that interview. Octavia, what was said?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was very interesting, because Al Jazeera interviewed Al-Hasaji (ph), who is a Sadr aide. He is the Nasiriya office manager, who has been involved in sending appeals to the kidnappers, asking them to release Micah Garen, because, as he said in his appeal, he's an innocent person, he is a journalist that works on telling the truth and getting the voice of truth out.

Right after, they spoke with Aust Al-Hasaji (ph), they said, is Micah there with you? And he said, yes, he is going to be with you on the phone momentarily, and sure enough, Micah got on the phone, and he said that -- he explained how he was taken hostage. He said he was walking down the streets of Nasiriya taking pictures. He had a small camera and he was taking pictures. And he indicated that people thought that was strange and that he was a stranger just taking pictures, and they arrested him.

Later on, the anchor asked him if he had a message to send out, and he said, yes, I want to thank everyone who worked on ensuring my safety and my release. He said that he wanted to thank his family and his fiancee, who he said spent three months with him in Nasiriya. He also thanked his friends in Nasiriya and he thanked the Sadr people -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Octavia, during videotaping a statement by Garen, Micah -- Micah Garen earlier in the week, he had stated that he was being treated well. Did he reiterate that thought, or elaborate on that any further during his interview with Al Jazeera?

NASR: No, the anchor didn't ask him that question. You would think that she would ask him that. She didn't ask him that, but he did sound to be in very high spirits. He sounded to be fine. The -- Hasaji (ph), the Sadr office manager did indicate that Micah Garen will remain in Nasiriya. He said that this is his wish, to stay in Nasiriya and continue his work, and Hasaji (ph) also said that he had called the human rights group to come in and check on him, and that he was available in the Nasiriya office of Sadr now.

In order to put all this in perspective -- and this is, of course, I'm quoting Al Hasaji (ph), who is again, the Sadr office manager in Nasiriya. He said that it all started with Garen's sister's appeal to Muqtada al Sadr. He said that she appealed to him directly, asking him to get involved on behalf of the family, and asked the hostage takers to release her brother.

Then Hasaji (ph) said that al Sadr did send his orders for everybody who is involved to do whatever they can to ensure the release of Micah Garen. Hasaji (ph) also said that after Friday prayer yesterday, after Friday prayers, there was like a campaign where all the imams sent out messages, anyone who has any link to the group, the Martyrs Brigade that had Garen hostage, to send a message to them that this is non-Islamic, and they should release him, because he's a man who worked very hard on telling the truth, that in his words, he reported on the aggression and the massacres committed by the occupying forces.

Again, I'm quoting Hasaji (ph) here. So basically, they sent out this message on Friday, and he said that they did get a good response, and the group that had him did contact al Sadr's office, and they brought Micah Garen into the office today.

WHITFIELD: And Octavia, you talked about at the time of his arrest and consequential abduction, he was taking pictures, but let's talk about the circumstances in which he was there in the first place. Apparently, he was on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq. Is that your understanding?

NASR: That is my understanding. He is an archaeological reporter; he's been reporting a lot about the archaeological sites and how they had been looted.

Now, what happened is, in his words, Micah Garen said that he was walking around -- he did say "we," and we do know from other stories that he was accompanied by his interpreter. So he said, we were walking around, taking pictures with a small camera.

Why they were taking the pictures we do not know. Was it for his story or not? We don't know. Of course, Micah Garen is going to be the only one who can explain all that. But he was an archaeological reporter.

What Hasaji (ph) did say when he sent out his appeal yesterday, he did talk about one instance where Garen reported on a family that was in an ambulance, and apparently -- at least this is how he describes it, Hasaji (ph) does, he says that the occupying forces -- and this is of course the coalition forces -- shot and killed the family members that were in the ambulance. The coalition says that, you know, they were insurgents. Apparently Micah did a story on those, saying that this was an accident -- a terrible accident, where a whole family was killed.

So Hasaji (ph) used that example to illustrate how Micah Garen is someone who tells the truth, who reports not necessarily with the coalition, but against them.

Whether this is true or not, we're not sure. We do know that Micah Garen reports on archaeological stories, especially, as you mentioned, the looting of the archaeological sties in Iraq.

WHITFIELD: Octavia Nasr, thanks so much for that update.

And Micah Garen had apparently been a contributing reporter to the Associated Press, as well as to the Four Corners media Web site, and he also worked as a freelance photojournalist for the Associated Press and as a reporter for "The New York Times" as well.

So once again, 36-year-old American journalist Micah Garen, who was taken hostage more than a week ago in Nasiriya, Iraq, has since been freed and he was recently interviewed on Arab television Al Jazeera talking about his freedom. In part one, by a direct appeal made by his sister to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

More on this later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN center in Atlanta. Our top story, just in moments ago. Thirty-six-year-old American journalist Micah Garen, who was being held against his will in Nasiriya, Iraq for more than a week now has been released.

Apparently Garen, along with his Iraqi interpreter, were abducted while on the streets of Nasiriya. Apparently Garen was taking some photographs when he was abducted. Garen had been on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq. He worked as a freelance photojournalist for the Associated Press and had also written for "The New York Times," as well as for the Four Corners media Web site. He was recently interviewed on Arab television Al Jazeera, and expressed that he was treated well and that he is now doing fine.

His release was contributed in part to his sister making a direct appeal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. So once again, Micah Garen, that American journalist that you're seeing in that photograph, just there, has been released in Iraq.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More news later.

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