American journalist Charles Glass gave a graphic account Tuesday of his captivity and escape from Muslim fundamentalist kidnapers in Lebanon, then left the Mideast and flew here for a private reunion early today with his family.
"I feel good," Glass told a news conference in Damascus, Syria, where he was taken by Syrian officials and debriefed at the U.S. Embassy on his two-month ordeal. "The people who really suffered are my wife and children."
The former ABC News correspondent brought no fresh information on the eight other Americans known to be in captivity in Lebanon. His wife, Fiona, said in a television interview in London that Glass had told her that he had not seen any other hostages during his captivity.
Glass appeared to have lost weight during his weeks as a hostage but otherwise seemed unharmed. He told newsmen he had escaped from his kidnapers in an apartment on the seventh floor of a building in Bir al Abed, a Shia Muslim slum south of Beirut that is known as a stronghold of the pro-Iranian group Hezbollah, or Party of God. He said he had been shackled hand and foot for at least two weeks.
In a broadcast from Damascus, the 37-year-old Glass told Peter Jennings, a longtime friend at ABC News, that he had been chained after he was caught tossing notes to the streets below, begging someone to help him get free. But no such help came.
Glass said that for 10 days he slowly worked the chains off, first over his ankle and then from his wrist, and managed late Monday to move a large chest and crawl out through a window onto a terrace. He made this move, he said, after hearing his two guards snoring in the room across the hall from his room.
From the terrace, he said, he entered the kitchen, which led to a door with three locks.
"The bedroom of the guards was right next to the front door--I could still hear them snoring and I opened the door very quietly, slid out, took the key with me, locked them in, and ran down the seven flights of stairs and out into the road," he said.
"It was an escape," Glass told newsmen emphatically in Damascus.
There had been speculation that he might have been released as the result of political negotiation but in a manner that would allow his captors to save face. This apparently was the case with at least one of the earlier American hostages.
Free of his captors, Glass, who speaks some Arabic after a decade of covering the Middle East, approached a group of people waiting in front of a bakery and asked for a ride toward Beirut. He told them he needed to find a doctor to attend a sick daughter. A man agreed to take him to the Summerland Hotel.
The Summerland, on the fringes of Beirut's Shia Muslim suburbs, was a natural sanctuary for Glass, who had used it as a base of operations in 1985 when he acquired prominence in the United States for his coverage of the hijacking of a TWA airliner to Beirut in which an American serviceman was killed.
He Calls Syrians
At the hotel, Glass called a physician friend, who brought him clothing and pronounced him fit. He also summoned Syrian authorities, who are headquartered not far from the hotel. The Syrians quickly took him to Damascus.
"We have spared no effort to save you," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh said as he handed Glass over to American diplomats in Damascus. "We consider this (his abduction) an unacceptable challenge to us."
Glass was the first foreigner kidnaped in West Beirut after Syria's deployment Feb. 22 of 7,500 troops as peacekeepers in the predominantly Muslim sector of the Lebanese capital. The Syrians made it clear that Glass was considered a special case among the hostages.
Glass, who was raised in Los Angeles, was in the Middle East to research and write a book on Lebanon and Syria when he was kidnaped June 17 while driving through a suburb of West Beirut with Ali Osseiran, the son of Lebanon's defense minister, and a driver. The two Lebanese were released a short time later.
The kidnaping chilled Syria's relations with Iran, a former ally, because pro-Iranian Shia Muslim fundamentalists were widely believed to have engineered the abduction.
In Washington, an Administration official familiar with the Glass kidnaping said that, although U.S. intelligence officials have not heard his full account, they are skeptical that it was a true escape. They speculate that Iran was responsible for his capture and ordered his release to relieve pressure from Syria and to repair worsening relations with the Arab world.
"We are confident that Iran ordered his kidnaping--was responsible for his kidnaping," the official said. "Therefore--here I'm speculating--it seems safe to assume that Iran was involved in ordering or effecting his release, assuming he didn't just escape.
"You might think of escape as a form of plausible deniability, to use a term in fashion around town these days. I'm not basing this on any intelligence; I'm just making my analysis."
'Pressure on Iran'
The official said the Syrians "certainly did put some pressure on Iran," both because of U.S. requests for Syrian help in attempting to get all of the foreign hostages freed in Lebanon, and what he called the "broader, if you will, strategic competition between Syria and Iran over what's going on in Lebanon."
He said the Iranians also may be feeling isolated in the Mideast because of the recent clash of Iranian Muslim pilgrims in Mecca with Saudi authorities, and events in the Persian Gulf, and that Tehran therefore would have welcomed Glass' escape to put Iran in a more positive light.
Responsibility for the Glass kidnaping had been claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Organization of the People's Defense. The group said in a videotape made public July 7 that it kidnaped Glass because he worked for the CIA. Glass appeared on the tape, obviously under duress, and admitted the spying charge. Glass said Tuesday he had been threatened with death, and he again denied any CIA connection.
Glass' kidnaping had become an issue in relations between the United States and Syria, and his escape appeared likely to hasten an improvement that started in July with a visit to Damascus by Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Relations between Washington and Damascus had cooled over allegations that Syria had actively supported terrorist groups abroad. After an Arab attempt to blow up an Israeli airliner in London last April, the United States withdrew its ambassador, William L. Eagleton Jr., to protest Syria's involvement in the incident. Eagleton still has not returned to Damascus.
Glass' departure from Lebanon leaves 24 foreigners in the hands of kidnapers, including another American journalist, Terry A. Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press. Anderson was abducted on March 16, 1985.
The other captives include Terry Waite, an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert A. K. Runcie, who was taken hostage earlier this year while on a mission to try to free the captives in Lebanon.
Glass, asked by ABC's Jennings about the other hostages being held in Lebanon, said: "I can only say my heart bleeds, if I can get sentimental for a moment, for Terry Anderson, who has been a hostage for 2 1/2 years . . . for Terry Waite, for others. Sixty-two days I find very difficult, but I think 2 1/2 years would be impossible. For them and their families, it's unconscionable.
"I spent a lot time praying and thinking about what I should do if I did get out. I want myself to work very hard in any way I can to obtain their release because it's too much for them to bear. I'm fine. I'm a little tired now because I haven't slept. But I think of the pain that my family endured for this relatively short period and compare it to the misery of these other families who have been going through it for such a long time, something has to be done."
Glass said that he and the other captives were handcuffed shortly after the abduction.
"I asked for water and one of the guards said, 'Why water? You death. You no need water.' And another one poked me with a revolver and said: 'You CIA,' " Glass said.
Referring to the videotape of him saying that he was CIA agent, Glass said he was told that he would never see his family again if he did not perform correctly.
"There was a gun pointed at my head a few feet away during the entire time I was reading it, and it was made it clear to me that if I didn't read it word for word, I would be dead," he said.
"I did everything in that tape to convince my friends, at ABC particularly, that this was not me, these were not my words, by reading the text as ungrammatical as it was, by speaking in a Southern accent so they would know I was in South Beirut, by pretending to be more afraid than I actually was, so they could see these were not my words. And I held the paper in such a way--and I don't know if it was in the (camera) frame--that my fingers were crossed, so you could see that these were not my words, that these words were not true."
Tyler Marshall reported from London, and Charles P. Wallace reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Times staff writer Paul Houston in Washington contributed to this article.