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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Freed reporter back with family
Rory Carroll hugs his mother

A journalist who was held hostage in Baghdad has said it is fantastic to be reunited with his family in Dublin.

Guardian reporter Rory Carroll was taken at gunpoint in the suburb of Sadr City but freed after 36 hours.

He had managed to keep his sense of humour, he said, despite fearing he would be beheaded or held for months.

Mr Carroll, 33, said he owed his release to joint efforts from the British and Irish governments and "possibly the Iranian government".

'Police' car

The journalist was ambushed by a dozen gunmen as he drove down a quiet road with his driver and interpreter in Sadr City in eastern Baghdad.

He had been watching the opening of Saddam Hussein's trial with an Iraqi family.

Since hostages started having their heads sawn off we have all been obsessed by it
Rory Carroll

"There was one, possibly two men in police uniform," Mr Carroll said.

But he was not sure if the men were simply dressed as police or officers moonlighting as kidnappers.

After being forced into a car he was driven to a small basement room where he was held captive.

He had thought he might beheaded but was released 36 hours later on Thursday evening after high level diplomatic efforts by Irish and British officials.

Reflecting on his ordeal, Mr Carroll said: "Arguably, I am still in denial about it, it still hasn't really sunk in."

He said the "dungeon-like passageway" where he was kept was "pretty horrible".

"The children would run in and peek out and try and poke me," he said, adding that he still managed to see the funny side despite knowing that being kidnapped as a westerner was "not good news".

'Best present ever'

At a busy news conference in Dublin, Rory's parents Joe and Kathy said they were delighted to have their son home.

His father Joe, a retired Irish Times correspondent, said he was full of admiration for his calm reaction to the situation.

"I'd have been shrieking in that concrete cell from about minute one; I just think he's terrific," he said.

His mother, who was celebrating her birthday on Sunday, said having her son back was the best present ever.

It's vital that there is still a media presence in Iraq; but no story is worth a life
Rory Carroll

Turning to Rory, she said: "I think you forgot it was my birthday."

"Happy birthday, Mam," he replied as they hugged and kissed, "I'm sorry, they kidnapped your present."

The reporter said he did not intend to return to Iraq immediately, but would go back one day.

He said it was important that journalists continued to report what was going on in Iraq.

"We're going to have to continue reporting from the country. It's such a big story, and such an important story.

"It's vital that there is still a media presence in Iraq; but no story is worth a life.

The Carroll family reunited
Rory Carroll said he was kept in a dungeon-like passageway

"It's a matter of getting the balance right between security and getting the story.

"I never wanted to be a news story, I wanted to write news stories," he added.

He was told by his main captor that he had been abducted "to be used as a bargaining chip in an effort to obtain the release of some Shia militia man who had been detained in Basra by British forces".

Republic of Ireland Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern has said no ransom was paid for the release of Mr Carroll.

But he refused to say whether Iraqi prisoners had been freed in a deal.

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