A British photojournalist held in captivity in Basra for two months is enjoying his first taste of freedom today after being dramatically rescued by Iraqi forces.
Richard Butler was taken hostage by militia outside the city’s Qsar al Sultan Hotel on February 10 while working on as a cameraman and producer for US broadcaster CBS’s 60 Minutes programme.
He was found bound and hooded, but apparently unharmed, during a raid on a house in the Jibiliya area of the Iraqi second city yesterday.
He spent last night being cared for by British consular staff inside the heavily-fortified Basra Airport military base just outside the city.
Colleagues spoke of their delight after was pictured smiling and speaking on Al Iraqiya television amid jubilant scenes.
He said: “The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards.
“They burst through the door and I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time, and they just shouted something at me and I pulled my hood off and they ran me down the road.”
Greeting his rescuers he said: “Thank you and I’m looking forward to seeing my family and my friends at CBS and thank you again.”
The Iraqi defence ministry said the drama unfolded after an army patrol which was conducting a search in the area came under fire from the house where Mr Butler was being held.
One of the gunmen was wounded in an exchange of fire and another captured while two men managed to escape.
In a short statement, CBS said: “We are incredibly grateful that our colleague, Richard Butler, has been released and is safe.
“He was taken on February 10 in Basra while on assignment for CBS News. He is apparently in good condition.”
A Foreign Office spokesman in Basra said Mr Butler was originally handed over to the British military authorities but was now being looked after by consulate officials at Basra airport.
He added that Mr Butler had undergone a medical check-up.
Mr Butler’s wife Helen was not immediately available for comment at their home in France yesterday.
But the organisation Reporters Without Borders commented: “We are happy and relieved that Mr Butler is safe and sound again after two months of being held hostage.
“Iraq continues to be extremely dangerous for journalists, including foreign reporters, five years after the start of the war.
“We have not forgotten the 14 journalists of whom there has been no word in the many months since their abduction.”
A photojournalist with experience of covering conflicts around the world, Mr Butler was one of only a few freelance photographers in Baghdad to record its fall in early 2003.
He has worked for publications including The Sunday Telegraph, The New York Times and The Financial Times.
Mr Butler’s interpreter was released a few days after their capture, apparently after the intervention from members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
The rescue follows the launch last month of major Iraqi military operations to rid the city of militia influence.