Abducted Journalist Felt Called by Iraq War

Times Staff Writer

Athletes put themselves on the line to win their games, Jill Carroll wrote in an essay last spring. The freelance foreign correspondent risks everything, she wrote, "for love of the story."

Carroll, 28, was working as a contributor for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted at gunpoint last weekend in Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi authorities continued to search for her Tuesday.

Carroll was seized by gunmen Saturday while reporting on efforts by Iraqi politicians to form a new government. She was leaving the headquarters of a Sunni political party by car when she was confronted in one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. Her Iraqi interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was killed in the attack, but her driver escaped without injury.

At the request of the Monitor, The Times and other media outlets delayed publishing information about Carroll's abduction to allow time for negotiations that might help win her release.

Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim said Tuesday, "We continue to do everything we can to secure Jill's release."

Ellen Tuttle, communications manager for the Boston-based newspaper, said the paper would provide no further details about Carroll or her abduction.

"It's such a sensitive situation," Tuttle said. "We have been counseled to give as few details as possible."

Tuttle praised the professionalism and dedication that motivated Carroll to go to Jordan before the Iraq war began to learn about Muslim culture. Tuttle said it was clear in Carroll's work that she was pursuing a career that was something of a calling.

"I think she had that passion, and that gave her the energy to continue," even in perilous conditions, Tuttle said.

In the essay published last year in the American Journalism Review, Carroll said: "All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent."

Carroll graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1999 with a degree in journalism.

Since arriving in Baghdad in 2003, she had freelanced for the Italian news agency ANSA, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and several other U.S. dailies. In addition, she had done some stringing -- or freelance work -- for U.S. News & World Report. She had worked in Iraq for the Monitor for about a year.

Carroll, fluent in Arabic, also wrote for the Jordan Times while living in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Times correspondent Borzou Daragahi recalled meeting Carroll in Baghdad in 2003.

"She always struck me as a very studious person," Daragahi said in an interview from Amman.

"Unlike other journalists in those first months, who were whooping it up in the typical foreign correspondent lifestyle, she always seemed rather sober-minded and serious."

Carroll was scratching out a living as a freelancer for ANSA at the time, living in a small, seedy hotel and paying her own expenses. Daragahi, who also was freelancing at that point, had more clients.

"I tried to encourage her to pick up more strings to earn more money," he said. "But she used to say she would rather just keep one client because she was content to break even and focus on reporting on Iraq."

Living in the Iraqi capital, Carroll followed the practice of many Western female journalists and wore the head covering known as a hijab and a head-to-toe covering called an abaya. Her sister Kathryn kept a blog of Carroll's adventures that featured a picture of Jill in her standard, Iraq-inspired work attire.

"This is what I wear every time I go out," the slender, dark-haired journalist wrote to her sister. "One reason for the hijab is to make you so unattractive so people will deal with you as a person and not be distracted by your looks -- in my case, mission accomplished."

The blog, called Lady in Arabia, was taken down over the weekend. Kathryn Carroll could not be reached for comment. No one answered the telephone Tuesday at the home of her parents, James and Mary Carroll of Ann Arbor, Mich.

An April entry on the blog was posted shortly after a car bombing in Iraq. Kathryn Carroll commented: "I was talking to Jill on instant message today and she mentioned nothing of the events ... I know she doesn't want us to worry."

James Smith, foreign editor of the Boston Globe, said Carroll wrote three stories from Iraq for the paper in the early days of the conflict. He called her "very professional, a solid, fair reporter who cared about getting things right."

Smith said Carroll visited the Globe newsroom before she left for Iraq. "She was very excited, and very aware of the risks involved," he said. "But she thought she could manage them."

Loren Jenkins, senior foreign editor for National Public Radio in Washington, said Carroll had been an occasional contributor to newscasts from Iraq.

"She seemed knowledgeable, and seemed to know her stuff," Jenkins said. "She had some experience there, and was not someone who just parachuted in. Iraq is the big story of the year right now, and it is the place for young reporters to go and get known."

In her "Letter From Baghdad" about freelance foreign correspondents in the American Journalism Review -- subtitled "What a Way to Make a Living" -- Carroll wrote that it might have been a blessing when she was laid off from her job as a reporting assistant at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002.

"The cubicle walls are closing in," Carroll recounted. "You'd rather jump off a cliff than cover one more zoning board meeting." Her idealism got the best of her as she reasoned "that I could do more good in the Middle East than in the U.S."

She described the "lunacy" of cleaning out her savings account and moving to Jordan in late 2002, then heading to Baghdad. There she joined the ranks of reporters who were "churning out stories on shoestring budgets in a country the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the most dangerous in the world for journalists."

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said 76 journalists and media staff have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

With the death in April of a friend, humanitarian aid worker Marla Ruzicka, Carroll was touched directly by the dangers of working in Iraq. Ruzicka, a 28-year-old Californian, was caught in an ambush in Baghdad.

Though their relationship began on a professional basis, Ruzicka and Carroll became friends -- two idealistic, unattached women living in Baghdad. Carroll wrote about how Ruzicka helped her through a period of self-doubt, a time when fear "swept over me. What was I doing here? I had come as a freelancer, with no experience, covering a war."

Her friend showed up, Carroll recalled, "just as I was quietly freaking out," and talked her out of her distress.

Carroll's most recent story was published in Friday's issue of the Monitor, with the headline "Violence Threatens Iraqi Coalition."

Carroll is the 36th journalist to be kidnapped since April 2004 and the first American woman.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World