Kidnapped AP Photographer Freed In Gaza

Oct 24, 2006

GAZA CITY– Kidnapped Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti, 37, has been released unharmed in Gaza tonight after he was abducted at gunpoint this morning in the Gaza Strip. He was reportedly snatched when he walked out of his apaprtment and was forced into the kidnappers' waiting vehicle.

AP says Morenatti was brought before midnight to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by Fatah Party officials. It is not known who kidnapped him, or how he was handed over to Fatah. Police said the abductors were criminals, and earlier today the government and the main Palestinian political groups had denounced the kidnapping.

Morenatti says he is tired, but otherwise unharmed.

AP says Morenatti was walking toward an AP car this morning where Majed Hamdan, an AP driver and translator, was waiting when four gunmen grabbed Hamdan’s keys and phone and told him to “turn away.” He says a gun was pressed to his head and he was told he would be harmed if he moved.

Hamdan says the gunmen grabbed Morenatti, shoved him into a white Volkswagen Golf, and drove off.

The Hamas-led Palestinian government has condemed the kidnapping and called for Morenatti's safe release. The Fatah Party also says they are not involved in the photojournalist's kidnapping. Palestinian militants have been implicated in recent kidnappings of journalists in Gaza but no group has laid claim to Morenatti's abduction yet.

The Israel National News Arutz Sheva reports that Morenatti has, in the past, been "trusted by Palestinian terrorists who offered the photographer an inside view of Al-Aksa Brigades terrorists preparing for attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers." Arutz Sheva says Morenatti photographed "an Al-Aksa terrorist laying a bomb and another carrying an explosive belt to be used in a suicide bombing."

AP president Tom Curley released a statement saying this morning saying that AP was doing everything possible to to find Morenatti and secure his release. “We are in contact with Palestinian officials and leaders to learn more, and to try to obtain his release. Our main concern now, however, is for his safety.

Morenatti is from Jerez, Spain, and has worked for AP in Jerusalem since April 2005. He’s worked for AP since 2004 when he covered the conflict in Afghanistan. He’s also covered World Cup Soccer in Germany and the conflict in Lebanon for AP. Before AP he was a photographer for EFE in Seville, Spain.

Kidnappings of foreigners in the Gaza have recently ended after a few days or weeks of captivity, AP reports. A U.S. student volunteer in the West Bank was kidnapped in early October by unknown gunmen and released a few hours later, and in August two journalsits working for Fox News were kidnapped in the Gaza Strip and held for two weeks before they were released.