Lucky escape for British reporter snatched in Iraq

By Dominic Ponsford
 
A third British newspaper journalist has been
kidnapped while on assignment in Iraq after deciding to try his luck on
a non-embedded assignment.

It emerged this week that Phil Sands had been kidnapped on Boxing Day and released on New Year’s Eve.

Sands, 28, has worked for the Northampton Chronicle, Press Association and Bristol Evening Post.

He was in Iraq freelancing for The Scotsman, San Francisco Chronicle and other titles.

According
to the San Francisco paper he was on his way to an interview in a
“desolate” Baghdad neighbourhood when he was blocked by two luxury
sedans and bundled into the boot of one of the cars by armed men.

More than 30 journalists have been abducted in Iraq since March 2003.

US
reporter Jill Carroll, taken on 7 January, remains in captivity, as
does British peace activist Norman Kember, 74, who was seized in
Baghdad on 26 November.

Sands has covered Iraq since early 2003
and made a number of trips to the country, usually working as an
embedded reporter travelling with military convoys.

He was in the country covering last month’s elections.

On
22 December he decided to start reporting independently from the
country, travelling with an Iraqi friend as guide and translator. He
was abducted four days later.

His abductors were Sunni Muslims
who videoed him making a plea for Tony Blair to pull troops out of the
country, but the video was never broadcast.

He was freed in the
early hours of New Year’s Eve after US soldiers burst into the house he
was being held at on a routine mission to search for insurgents.

The
circumstances of his rescue have been confirmed by coalition
authorities who also said they had received no contact from his
kidnappers.

Sands told the Chronicle that his Iraqi translator
and driver, also being held at the house, had been arrested by the US
military.

His story has only come out now because he spent seven
days after his capture being debriefed by British security services in
Dubai.

According to a friend of Sands, British intelligence is
particularly interested in his case because it is the first time a team
of kidnappers has been caught alive and they could provide leads to
other captives, such as Kember.

Sands is understood to be in
discussions to sell his exclusive story to a magazine and he declined
Press Gazette’s request for an interview, pending that deal.

A
close friend said: “He’s going to take a couple of weeks off to spend
with his family then he’s planning to go on assignment in Syria.

“He
loves Iraq and this experience has not put him off the country or its
people and he thinks journalists must continue to report on the
country.”

 

Reporting on Iraq
BRITISH JOURNALISTS TAKEN

In August
2004 freelance James Brandon was seized by 20 armed men while staying
at a hotel in Baghdad and reporting for The Scotsman, The Independent
and the Sunday Telegraph. He was released after 20 hours.

In
October 2005, Guardian Iraq correspondent Rory Carroll was seized by a
15-man armed gang while carrying out an interview in the Shia district
Sadr City. He was released 36 hours later after an international outcry.

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