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Anderson’s Family Rejoices at Long Last : Reaction: Colleagues and relatives uncork champagne to celebrate his release after more than 6 1/2 years of captivity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After enduring yet another day of uncertainty, Terry A. Anderson’s family, friends and colleagues finally were able to rejoice without inhibition Wednesday afternoon as he appeared on live television from Damascus, safely in the hands of Syrian and American officials.

Champagne bottles were uncorked in offices of the Associated Press from New York to Beirut, where Anderson was serving as the news agency’s chief Middle East correspondent when he was abducted 6 1/2 years ago.

“The time for celebration is here,” John Anderson, his brother, told the Cable News Network, which carried the live pictures of Terry Anderson making a statement and answering a few questions from journalists in Damascus.

“He looks real good. He looks healthy, happy and free at last,” John Anderson added, speaking from his home in Ocala, Fla.

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“I’m ecstatic,” their sister, Peggy Say, who has worked doggedly for her brother’s release, told the AP in a telephone call from Wiesbaden, Germany, where she is waiting for him.

“He looked tremendous,” Say said, adding that she had received a telephone call from President Bush.

“He had seen Terry on television and he thought he (Terry) looked wonderful. He seemed genuinely overcome with emotion. He said that he had the greatest respect for what I had done,” Say added.

“And he (Bush) hoped to give me a great, big hug very soon,” she continued.

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The President, in a statement released by the White House, said: “I join Terry Anderson’s family and friends in their happiness for his return to freedom after 6 1/2 years in captivity.

“Speaking to Peggy Say, Terry’s sister, this afternoon, I felt the joy and the tears that marked this occasion for her. Peggy and the families of the other hostages have known the tragedy and the loneliness of the captives themselves over these many years.

“And similarly, all Americans have shared the emotional trauma associated with hostage-taking, terrorist kidnaping, and the personal tragedies that each of these hostages has experienced,” Bush said.

Louis D. Boccardi, AP’s president and chief executive, added:

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“He has paid a terrible price for his commitment to stay with his story. We welcome him back with warmth, affection and the deepest respect for what he has endured.”

In Damascus, waiting for Anderson, were his fiancee, Madeleine Bassil, and their daughter, Sulome, whom Anderson has never seen in person.

In New York, at the AP’s headquarters, a roar of applause went up as Anderson appeared on television.

“TERRY . . . FREE!!!!” proclaimed a huge yellow banner on one wall of the newsroom, which bustled with television crews covering the reaction of AP staffers to his release.

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Earlier in the day, when the agency first sent news of Anderson’s release to its customers worldwide, Executive Editor William E. Ahearn said: “It’s the nicest bulletin we’ve ever moved.”

And without waiting for final confirmation of Anderson’s freedom, his AP colleagues in the Beirut office uncorked champagne bottles to toast his freedom.

Elsewhere, such celebrations were delayed throughout the day by the agonizing flurry of contradictory reports about whether he really had been released.

When Anderson, 44, finally appeared at the Syrian Foreign Ministry, it was nearly 11 hours after the first report, by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, that he had been released.

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And as Anderson joked at his press conference that “these last 24 hours have been longer than the whole 6 1/2 years,” his many relatives scattered across the United States laughingly agreed.

“It’s been like a big roller coaster ride. But that’s the way it’s been for almost seven years,” John Anderson, 36, said. “The only thing I want to do now is walk up to my brother and give him a great big hug and tell him welcome home.”

The day’s delays “tried my patience a little more,” Judy Walker, John Anderson’s twin sister, told the AP from her home in Cadiz, Ky. “But isn’t that the way this whole thing has been?”

“It’s really been pretty wild,” Kathleen Kieswetter, one of Anderson’s many cousins, added in a telephone interview from Lorain, Ohio. “I was home and first heard the news that he was released about 4 in the morning. But by 7, when I got to work, it had been reversed. And then at 11, somebody came in my office and told me he was freed again. It’s been up and down like that all day.”

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It wasn’t until she was driving home from work that she heard on her car radio confirmation that Anderson indeed was free.

“We feel fantastic. It’s been 6 1/2 years of prayers and hard work,” New York City police sergeant Tom Anderson, another cousin, told reporters camped outside his Valley Stream, N.Y., home. “Terry is not the only one who was freed today.”

Times staff writer Douglas Jehl contributed to this report.


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