Two Fox News journalists released in Gaza City on Sunday after being missing for almost two weeks said their kidnappers had forced them at gunpoint to say in a video that they had converted to Islam.
Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American reporter, and Olaf Wiig, 36, a cameraman from New Zealand, were freed the day after expiry of a deadline set by the kidnappers for the US to free all its Muslim prisoners.
The kidnapping, by the previously unknown Holy Jihad Brigades, was condemned by all Palestinian factions, including the ruling Hamas party.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, met the two journalists shortly after their release. He said of the unidentified kidnappers: “These are young men who carried out the action out of private beliefs.”
Mr Centanni said the videotape of him and Mr Wiig announcing their conversion to Islam was made under duress. The video was seen as a face-saving device by the kidnappers after they abandoned earlier demands.
The outcome appeared to confirm a local group was responsible after initial concern that similarities with abductions in Iraq pointed to foreign involvement. Hamas officials ruled out any connection between the kidnappers and al-Qaeda.
Most previous kidnappings were carried out by armed groups seeking to pressure the PA for concessions such as government jobs or the release of imprisoned relatives.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel on Sunday protested to Israel after two journalists and three others were wounded in an Israeli air strike on a Reuters news agency vehicle in Gaza. The Israeli military acknowledged it had targeted a vehicle moving suspiciously but had not seen any identifying marks. The FPA said the white car had been clearly identified as a press vehicle.