[Media-watch] Baghdad kidnappers 'googled' reporter - icWales - 19/10/2004

Julie-ann Davies jadavies2004 at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Oct 19 12:23:44 BST 2004

Baghdad kidnappers 'Googled' reporter 
Oct 19 2004

Iraqi militants who kidnapped an Australian reporter in Baghdad and threatened to kill him "Googled" his name on the Internet to investigate his work before releasing him unharmed, the journalist's executive producer said today.

John Martinkus, the first Australian confirmed as having been held hostage in Iraq, was seized early on Saturday and held for nearly 24 hours before being freed. He was making his way home today after flying to Jordan on yesterday.

His executive producer at Australia's SBS network, Mike Carey, said the Internet - often used by Iraqi militants to air grisly images of hostages being beheaded - likely saved Martinkus.

"They checked on him to see if he was who he said he was," Carey said. "They Googled him and then went onto a website - either his own or his book publisher's website, I don't know which one - and saw that he was who he was, and that was instrumental in letting him go, I think, or swinging their decision."

Google is a popular Internet search engine.

Martinkus is a freelance reporter who also covered the turmoil during East Timor's 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia. He has written books about Jakarta's involvement in East Timor and life in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's was ousted.

Carey said Sydney-based SBS network had been concerned about Martinkus' safety after failing to hear from him for almost a day, but only heard he had been kidnapped after his release.

"It was just getting to the stage where we were getting really panic stricken," he said. "And I got a call from John saying, 'Mate, I'm at my fixer's house, they've dropped us at the fixer's house. I've been kidnapped but I'm free."'

Fixers are local people employed to help journalists, often as translators and drivers.

Martinkus said he was snatched at gunpoint from outside a hotel close to Australia's embassy in Baghdad.

He said his kidnappers, who he described as Sunni Muslims, initially threatened to kill him, before checking on his background.

"I can't say very much, but of course they said they were going to kill me," Martinkus said.

He said he was treated well once he had told his kidnappers he was an independent reporter not linked to the US-led coalition in Iraq.

"I told them what I was doing I wasn't armed," he said.

Asked how he coped with the situation, Martinkus said: "I just kept talking."

Late on Sunday, a car bomb was detonated outside a cafe near the Australian Embassy, killing six people and injuring 26 others. There were no Australian casualties.

Australia, a staunch US ally, sent 2,000 troops to invade Iraq last year and still has 920 military personnel in and around the country. No Australian soldiers have been killed there.

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