Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig were freed Sunday, ending a two-week long hostage drama. Just before their release, kidnappers released a video of the two journalists in traditional Arab dress with which the men criticized Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and that they had converted to Islam. The men appeared to be in good health and were brought to a Gaza City Hotel by Palestinian authority officials.
Interviewed on Fox News, Centanni said that the "conversion" occurred at gunpoint. "Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it," Centanni said. "But it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on."
Centanni recounted the initial abduction, during which gunmen pulled them out of their truck and forced them into another car. The journalists were blindfolded and hands handcuffed violently behind their backs with plastic ties. They transferred to second car and driven to a building a garage.
"We were pushed down onto the dirt-covered concrete floor and we were forced to life face down with our handcuffs on," Centanni said. "Olaf was in the same room with me. Our shoulders were wrenched back, very painful."
"There were times when I thought 'I'm dead,' and I'm not," Centanni said. "I'm fine. I'm so very happy."
Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig expressed relief over their release by Palestinian kidnappers, but worried that their ordeal would dissuade other journalists away covering the region. "I just hope this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover this story," Centanni told a press conference Sunday after his release at noon. "Because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world needs to know more about."
The two men were released Sunday, taken blindfolded to a Gaza City hotel used as a base of operations by many journalists covering Palestine. They were quickly hustled upstairs, then taken to meet with Palestinian government officials and late transported to Jerusalem.
They were not significantly injured in their two-week long captivity, but were handled roughly at the beginning, with their hands bound tightly and forced into positions that injured their backs.
"That was just the beginning of our torment that night," Centanni said in an interview on Fox News. He added that "I figured I'm no good to them dead so I kept my hopes up."
In a twist, shortly before their release, the kidnappers released a video of the men "converting" to Islam. The men were shown separately, sitting cross-legged, reading statements. "I changed my name to Khaled. I have embraced Islam and say the word Allah," Centanni said in the video. Wiig called on leaders of the West to stop "hiding behind the 'I don't negotiate with terrorists' myth".
In a separate statement the captors said that "They chose Islam and that is a gift that God gives those whom he chooses."
In a video caption the kidnappers said that "They accept the faith without any pressure."
After his release Centanni said the video was made at gunpoint.
Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes said on his network that "The international community is more and more aware that journalists cannot and should not ever be used as pawns in world events…If you harm a journalist it's more difficult for that person to tell your story."