Scroll for updates...Conversion video added.
I've been away from the computer for a couple hours, so I missed the good, good news. A quick round-up of the machinations behind the release:
Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were freed today, dropped off at a hotel in Gaza, unharmed.
The two journalists were dropped off at Gaza City's Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials and appeared to be in good health. A tearful Centanni embraced a Palestinian journalist briefly as he entered, then rushed upstairs as Wiig followed.
Centanni, in a phone interview shortly after his release, said "I'm fine. I'm just so happy to be free."
He said he was so emotional because he was out and alive.
"There were times when I thought 'I'm dead,' and I'm not," Centanni said. "I'm fine. I'm so very happy."
He recounted how he and Wiig were pulled out of their car on August 14 and taken at gunpoint into another car. The kidnappers blindfolded them and handcuffed their hands behind their backs with plastic ties. They were then transferred to another car and driven to a building that they later learned was a garage.
"We were pushed down onto the dirt-covered concrete floor and we were forced to lie face down with our handcuffs on," Centanni said.
"Olaf was in the same room with me. Our shoulders were wrenched back, very painful."
Both of the men were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, Centanni said.
"We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint," Centanni told FOX News. "Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, 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."
Fox has video of Centanni, Wiig, and Roger Ailes, speaking about their release (right column).
Allah has the creepy conversion videos, accompanied by this passage from the Koran: "There is no compulsion in religion." Islamists? Not so familiar with our Western infidel irony.
Michelle Malkin has Roger Ailes' statement on the release:
I just hope this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover this story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful, kind-hearted, loving people who the world need to know more about and so do not be discouraged. Come and tell the story. It's a wonderful story. I'm just happy to be here. Thanks for all your support.
But she wonders whether that's the lesson that has been learned. I do too. Will these guys be punished? Clearly, the Palestinians know who they are. If they're not arrested, they've just learned they keep on doing it with impunity, and who knows how much ice this throws on Western journalists in the area who would like to report the truth? Also, Haniyeh gets the photo-op...
Debka goes over a Gilad Shalit connection:
Shortly after Centanni and Wiig were snatched by masked gunmen in Gaza on Aug. 14, the various intelligence agencies operating in Gaza knew who the kidnapper was: the Palestinian warlord Zakaria Dughmush, who had been hired by the same Hamas group which on June 25 kidnapped and - is still holding - the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit...
The efforts of the Hamas abductors of Shalit to negotiate a prisoner swap broke down. Hamas ended up refusing the quid pro quo of a promise by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, already deposited with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to release 600 Palestinian prisoners. The abductors held out for a simultaneous trade and then withdrew from the talks.
Then, when pressure built up to end the episode which was embarrassing Haniya, Mahmoud Abbas and others, they contracted Dughmush to stage a more spectacular abduction operation. He chose the two American Fox New journalists as his prey.
Allah has confirmation of some of this, from TIME. TIME quotes sources who say the kidnappings were meant to embarrass the Haniyeh government because Hamas militants elbowed the "Holy Jihad Brigades" guys out of control and credit for the Shalit kidnapping.
Haniyeh was able to secure the journalists' freedom, but at a high price: he has agreed to give these armed extremists a role in deciding the fate of the Israeli soldier, these sources said. The kidnappers are more extreme in their approach to Israel (Prime Minister Haniyeh is a moderate within Hamas), and they will undoubtedly raise the ante for the release of the 18-year-old corporal, who is said to be in good shape even though his captors have so far refused to offer any proof he is still alive.
At Jawa Report: "Free, safe, and well. Thank God."
There will be much more to come on this story, but I'm so glad they're safe.
Update: Ali Bubba was on this early in the a.m. (and I got the top pic of Centanni from him. Thanks!)