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April 2, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Four Missing Journalists Leave Iraq
Four Missing Journalists, Including Two From Newsday, Leave Iraq After Spending Week in Prison

The Associated Press


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MELVILLE, N.Y. April 2

Cheers broke out in the Newsday offices when word came that a reporter and a photographer for the newspaper were among four journalists and a peace activist freed after being detained for a week in an Iraqi prison.

Newsday correspondent Matt McAllester, 33, and photographer Moises Saman, 29, phoned the newspaper Tuesday to say they had been released and were crossing the Jordanian border. All were in good health.

Two other journalists, Molly Bingham, a freelance photographer from Louisville, Ky., and a Danish freelance photographer, Johan Rydeng Spanner, were released along with the Newsday staffers.

The group had been held inside the Abu Ghraib prison since March 25, according to Charlotte Hall, Newsday's managing editor. An American peace activist, Philip Latasha, also was with the group, Hall said.

Iraqi security guards went to McAllester's Baghdad hotel room early on the morning of March 25 and confiscated computers, notebooks, mobile phones, tape recorders and other equipment after several hours of searching the room.

The five were taken to the prison where they were interrogated repeatedly. They were not physically harmed, and were given basic food, Hall said.

The Newsday journalists told their editors that they were asked if they worked for the CIA or the Pentagon. They said no explanation was ever given as to why they were taken into custody or released.

"We thought we were going to be killed at any moment, McAllester told Newsday in Wednesday's editions.

McAllester and Saman said they could hear an anti-aircraft battery being fired from within the prison and felt bombs exploding in and around Baghdad. "At times it was extremely close," Saman said. "The cells would kind of rumble."

The pair also said they heard the screams of other prisoners being tortured and saw some with their eyes and faces bloodied and swollen. The two journalists were kept in separate cells and were unable to talk to each other.

After their detention, the group was driven to the Jordanian border by Iraqi officials.

An adviser to the Palestinian Authority told Newsday that the release of the two Newsday staffers was facilitated by the intervention of Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.

Ed Abington, a Washington, D.C.-based adviser to the authority, said Arafat instructed one of his former ambassadors to Iraq to contact the head of Iraqi military intelligence and push for the journalists' release.

In Louisville, Ky., the family of Bingham, 34, celebrated her release.

"Molly said she is OK," said her father, Barry Bingham Jr. "She said she had a rough week and sounded tired, but she said she was all right."

Molly Bingham spent 2 1/2 years as former Vice President Al Gore's documentary photographer for the National Archives. She also has recorded the plight of beleaguered people and places in Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Burundi, Sudan and Iran.


photo credit and caption:
Charlotte Hall, a managing editor at Newsday, speaks about two Newsday journalists during a news conference in Melville, N.Y., Tuesday, April 1, 2003. The pair, correspondent Matthew McAllester and photographer Moises Saman, missing for more than a week in Iraq, were found safe in Jordan on Tuesday. At left is Newsday foreign editor Dele Olojede. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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