McNaught rushes to Israel after husband kidnapped [audio clip]

TV journalist Anita McNaught is driving to Israel from Syria to help the hunt for her New Zealand husband, Olaf Wiig, who has been kidnapped in Gaza City while working as a freelance cameraman for Fox News.

Ms McNaught, a BBC World journalist and former New Zealand television presenter, said she is hoping the abduction is a local kidnapping, rather than serious and life-threatening.

"There has never been a situation where a foreign hostage has been hurt in Gaza when abducted," she told Kathryn Ryan on National Radio.

"Abductions in Gaza are often to help in local disputes. Unlike those in Iraq and Afghanisation, they are not for violent ends but to broker agreements locally. People are taken as leverage.

"So my hope is it is one of those non-serious but nevertheless very worrying abductions in Gaza."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said today the ministry would send diplomatic staff to Israel to work with the Palestinian authorities to secure Wiig's release.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the Government was "very concerned'' for the safety of Mr Wiig. She said information regarding the circumstances of the kidnapping was "sketchy".

"It is not clear who is responsible for their captures and where in Gaza the incident took place," she said.

Wiig, who was born on the Kapiti Coast and has an identical twin brother living in Wellington, had worked in Gaza several times and had been there for a month on his most recent stint.

He and US reporter Steve Centanni were taken at gunpoint yesterday.

Husband of eight years

Fox News, called Ms McNaught in Syria, where she was part of a BBC team covering the war in south Lebanon, to tell her that her husband of eight years had been kidnapped.

Ms McNaught has also been working for New Zealand media during the conflict, filing a report for TVNZ's Close Up last night from Lebanon and reporting for National Radio.

She told Nine to Noon this morning: "I had a call from Fox News about the time the news was breaking in New Zealand. The phone system in Syria is far from ideal and Fox had trouble getting through to me."

She said the call from a senior executives from Fox could have been with even worse news, so it was in the circumstances a "blessed relief" to learn he had only been taken hostage.

Fox, a 24 hour news channel in the US, told her that he had been driving with a reporter and translator in a mobile news truck, which is equipped to transmit live coverage of breaking news.

A car blocked them off and they were told to accompany the gunmen, who allowed the local translator to go free and alert Fox.

Ms McNaught said that while Gaza was a "pressure cooker, a very fractured, very unhappy place", her husband was very experienced in war zones having worked since the end of 2001 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and the Occupied Territories.

"He is one of new Zealand's most experienced conflict-zone cameramen."

Fox News has provided her with a driver and car to drive from Syria through Jordan to Israel to be closer to where her husband is being held.

Once there, "I will bring my own contacts to bear to help them in their negotiations."

She told Nine to Noon: "If I have to storm into Gaza in an unusually high dudgeon and tell some people off, I will."

Fox, she said, had built up contacts throughout Gaza and would be working its contacts in the Palestinian Authority and the US Consul to ensure his release.

Ms McNaught said that she and her husband had never spent a long time discussing what to do if one of them was abducted.

"You just accept that it's dangerous and you use your own judgment not to get into an unwise situation. Olaf is vastly more experienced than me.

"I'm doing no more or less than I always knew I would have to if I ever got a phone call like the one I got tonight, which is basically to swing into action and get there as soon as possible and work the contacts I have to facilitate his release."

Negotiations for the pair's release are underway, Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti said.

Wiig is a freelance cameraman based in England, where he lives with Ms McNaught.

He has been based overseas for the past five years, but previously worked in Auckland as a freelancer, and in Wellington for TV3 and Marmalade Vision.

Family

Wiig's father, the Reverend Roger Wiig, who lives in the UK but is currently in Napier, said the family had heard of his son's kidnapping on the news and were speaking to Fox News to find out about the progress of negotiations for his release. (Listen to Roger Wiig on Radio NZ.)

Major militant groups in Gaza denied having any connection to the incident and there was no immediate word of any demands made.

Suspicion for the abduction has centred on the Al Axa Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to Fatah in Gaza. But Ms McNaught said that the Brigade's name is sometimes invoked in kidnappings even if it is not actively involved.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped in Gaza in recent months with their abductors demanding jobs from the Palestinian Authority or the release of people being held in Palestinian jails.

All those kidnapped have been released within hours without harm.

Security officials put police across Gaza on alert to find the gunmen and free the reporters, said Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal.

"This is not acceptable at all," he said.

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman Helen Tunnah said this morning the ministry had not received any information on the kidnapping.

Mr Wiig, a Methodist minister in London, said he had last heard from his 36-year-old son at the end of last week. He said he was enjoying the work.

"He was basically shocked by what he was seeing, by the damage that Israel has done," Mr Wiig said.

Mr Wiig told National Radio: "He has worked very hard at being sensible in this kind of situation."

Wiig had been expected to return to London this week.

Mfat spokeswoman Helen Tunnah said staff in Turkey had been contacted by British diplomatic staff who were already in discussions with Palestinian authorities.

Mfat also intended to contact Fox News, and would work closely with the Palestinian authorities to negotiate the release of the two kidnapped reporters. She said it was most likely Mfat staff posted near Israel would be sent to assist in negotiations.

- NZHERALD STAFF, NZPA

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