The following is an edited transcript of Panorama's interview with former hostage Georges Malbrunot.
Perhaps we could start by asking you why were you in Iraq? What was your job? What were you doing there? How much time had you spent there and did you know the country well?
Yes I knew quite well the country, my first report was in '96 and from '96 until the war I'd been ten times to Iraq and we...we wrote with Christian one book about Saddam just before the war and immediately after the war I went to Baghdad where I stayed with...with kind of ratio four, five weeks, four weeks in Iraq, two weeks outside.
From April 2003 until August 2004 I'd been every month on this ratio and yeah I knew quite well the country and the...the conditions of work were at the beginning easy, after the fall of Baghdad it was very easy and people were ready to talk and there was you know a kind of euphoria of freedom and it lasted until Spring 2004 when the first hostage hostages were taken.
We'd heard that the level of insecurity has raised but I thought that being French was not total guarantee but I thought that being French wouldn't prevent us from being held but would allow us to be released quite soon.
So I was right and wrong, I was right because being French saved our life and I was wrong because...because we stayed for four months.
Now what about the conditions in August in Najaf because of course that's immediately what you were doing on that day on August 20th. Now tell us about the day, how it began and why you were going to Najaf.
We decided the day before to go to Najaf with Christian, I told him we have been last week there was no problem on the way and all the focus was in on Najaf because of the siege of the old city which was surrounded by American troops and after a week we had to go back because the news were there.
So I told Christian we should go back tomorrow perhaps, we saw that there were other journalists going there, there was no problem, so I told Christian well let's go tomorrow.
Christian was hesitating a little bit and said okay let's go and then we called our driver, a man with whom I had been working for a year, more than a year, we had total confidence and we left, we left Baghdad, our hotel at around eight o'clock a.m. and I had to make first report for the radio and another planned for nine o'clock in Iraq, seven am in Paris and I started writing my report in the car and we were not lucky because I had two mobile phone, one Iraqi and one Thuraya.
When I finished writing my report around 8.20 a.m we reached a place where the network was not possible so I couldn't use my mobile, I had to use my Thuraya.
So to use a Thuraya you have to stop the car so I called the radio, it was around 8.00/8.20, I said okay you will call me back around 8.55 and I will broadcast my report. And they called me around 8.50/55 and I stayed for twelve minutes waiting in the car but with the Thuraya and the antennae outside and I broadcast around 9.07, so I said twelve minutes and I thought I think that we were being watched during these twelve minutes but of course we didn't see anything.
We resumed our trip and fifty minutes later two cars blocked our way - one in the front, one in the back - and guys with machine guns and Kalashnikov's but with no gunfire. Immediately we said we are French journalists, we are French journalists,
They put me in the... the back of the car and Christian...in the back seat and we drove for twenty minutes and afterwards they took us out from the car and we had a first interview with one guy
You say you were shut in the boot of the car, what was it like? It must have been terrifying.
Yeah no it's a it's a shock because like you... from day to the night, from the freedom to captivity and immediately my first reaction was I wouldn't be able breathe for the first time in my life I was kept and I was put the back of a car.
And I thought like don't panic, I mean...finally I managed to breathe and I realised that it's possible, but immediately I said oh wow we have we are facing big problem and but okay, let's don't panic, don't panic, breathe calmly, I was remembering my drama course when I was twenty at the...when you are facing a tough situation you have to breathe in order not to panic.
So I said okay, the situation is bad but I said okay we are going on a bad trip of two, three days, I had in mind the previous French hostage in Iraq in April - who was held for three days and he was released. So okay, let's... let's say that I am going for difficult trip for three days.
But you knew you'd been taken hostage immediately?
Yes, oui, oui. Immediately I realised that we were kept at a...and I thought it's not possible because a few days before a colleague of mine from France called me and asked me how is the road for Najaf City...Take care, there is a portion around Lattifiya where there were there was kidnapping, but I was working too much for eight days and I and I didn't have the ability to judge the situation.
You didn't think straight?
Oui. So no because I should have I knew that this place was dangerous, so if I would have been in a normal situation I would have told the driver, we don't stay here because we'll be watched.
I had been working for the first time since the...there was lot of work. It was August and in France in August like in UK there's no news, sit down to write an article for Le Figaro and reports for the radio, so I was above that reasonable level of so I knew that immediately I...the...the French hostages in Lebanon, I read many books about that and... stuff. But also I thought okay let's.. we are French, they have nothing to blame us for. So let's wait.
So you were taken somewhere and then immediately moved on again?
What did you notice when you were let out of the car in terms of the surroundings, the people around you?
We didn't notice anything because immediately they put something on our eyes, but we notice that they didn't beat us, they just... just Christian got a slap,...but just but they captured us without any...anything on their face and it was surrealistic because people were passing along the road which means that they feel very confident.
It was a very small road so they feel at home, they can do whatever they want at home. So and after they drove us to another cell where we stayed for two weeks and after one hour they served us tea and...and after we had the first two interviews.
So tell us about the place that they took you to, this place where you spent two weeks
It was a very...very it was a very spac...I don't know the word in English.
Spartan yeah. It was no there was a kind there was a kind of nothing, no bed, nothing, just a hole to go for your needs and that's it, it was a kind of a place where you put your cows or sheep.
With two small windows and a door... I remember the... the noise of the when they open the door and after we... we realised that something...something bad happened and but no we were aware of the seriousness of the situation but we told ourselves okay, don't panic, we don't have to panic just we can't panic, we have to be strong otherwise if you panic from the first minute you...you will fall down. So we waited and we could explain our position during the two interviews.
We talked freely, we are French journalists, France was against the war, the occupation is illegal, and the resistance is legitimate, and we talked to them said we...we explained our position and the...they heard us, listened to us, and it was the atmosphere was quite good.
And then what happened?
And after then they told us that after the first interview they told us okay another group will come to interview you and they will make a cassette.
A video cassette?
Video cassette. And they made a video cassette but the atmosphere was good. Who are you? When did you arrive? What are you doing? For whom you are working?
What do you think about the resistance? What do you think about... And they told us okay, we asked them if there was any claim, they said no, no claim, and when we'll be released?
Tomorrow after tomorrow we will check your identity and after you we will release you.
Did you know why they were making a video?
We thought at this time that it was to identify our kidnapping and to...to bring the video to a...in order to broadcast it in .. and to...to let the French knowing that two French hostages were...were kept.
And in...in a sense tonight they will broadcast it on...and the French will know that and...
And the negotiation will start.
...and negotiation will start. And in fact they waited for they didn't use this cassette, I think this first cassette video was used internally for their direction to judge what do we do with these two French journalists?
Shall we release them? Bargain them? Or kill them? And by talking to them we managed to guess their intentions, their logic, and the first day we...we thought yes you are French don't worry...
So at the end of the first day we...we made a talk with Christian said okay let's make a balance of the day, frankly we had a good with them, we could explain our position and they told us also tomorrow after tomorrow one he said in Arabic... which means somebody from the intelligence service will come and make an interrogation. So we said okay we understood their logic.
Apparently logic of liberation, to release us, so we were quite confident and the Thursday night they gave us also our passport, our bag etc.., so we are quite confident.
And the second day nothing happened except the fact that two... two Macedonian guys were driving to our place with their Iraqi drivers and they didn't treat them well, contrary to us. So we thought that there was different level of treatment.
Tell us about these Macedonians
These two guys arrived, there was one guy who was around twenty five, tall guy, wounded on the on the leg, and another guy fifty years old and I discovered after that...that he was supposed to be his Godfather.
The young guy was supposed to marry the daughter of the guy. And they had also their Iraqi drivers but they were ambushed, and the Iraqi driver was extremely seriously injured, his face was bleeding and it was horrible. And they treated them badly...what America...America you are American and so on.
And we served as translator because these two poor guys didn't speak any word of English or Arabic, they couldn't explain them. And we discovered two months later that they...they told us two months later that they killed them.
So you knew then that these hostage takers were capable of killing?
Yeah. Not from the beginning but after a while yes they told us we killed them yeah. Because the day after, the third day on Sunday 22nd the chief of the internal security service came and he told us okay we are the Islamic army in Iraq.
We discovered after forty eight hours who they were, because at the beginning we were wondering are they Shia Sunna etc.., our driver is saying...we tried to listen do they say 'Saiyd' which is Shia or do they say 'Emir' which is Sunna.
So after forty eight hours the guy came said we are the Islamic army in Iraq, a salafist movement with x six thousand people fighting, we have four enemies - the coalition forces, their collaborators, the Iraqi police...
We infiltrated some of them and the spies and we told them we are not member of any of these category and he told us my job is to check it, so I will interview you and I will give my report to a tribunal, you will be judged by an Islamic tribunal and tomorrow after tomorrow you'll have the result.
So they were very organised and sophisticated in their approach to you?
Yes. And it reassured us.
It reassured you?
Because we...we thought discovered that we had in front of us people who have how do you say a way of reading the situation, not people acting as criminal or nervously.
So a political organisation?
Political organisation yeah. And so our first contacts were good with them and they treated us quite well and he told us the guy on Sunday we'll put you now in a three star hotel.
So we went to a very small cell which was contrary to the previous one clean but extremely small, small, it was not a three star hotel for sure and there was a surrealistic scene after he came to us and said okay we now you okay we...when we captured us the people who captured you thought you were Americans so they...the took your car, they...they...they put your...your computer in the car but we are not thief and we'll give you back the money so how much do you want for a computer for your for your mobile...so they gave us four hundred dollars which and...So we thought that it was the right way to...to... to get out it was on Sunday two days after our capture.
It's bizarre then offering you money for...
...taking things from you. And meanwhile you were hostages, you were facing death.
Yeah. They wanted to show us they were they were honest. But when they came when they released us four months later they gave us back we put the money in the in our passports, they took, day fifteen when they transferred us they took our passport and they gave us back the passport and they released but without the money.
So not so honest.
(LAUGHS)So but they gave us the passport which is quite rare, passport, press card, they took them all.
Okay so now you're several days into the ordeal.
Nothing happened during these days.
On Monday, the day three, some one guy came and told us write your name, okay sign it, this is for the French Embassy, so we thought the first contact was established.
And it fact it was true and at this time there was the first connection was established in order to get us released and there was an emissary who went to the French Embassy with the small paper.
With your name on it?
Voila. And he told the French they will be released tonight so the French organised a convoy, the military intelligence went there,...we call the emissary told them I will call you when they will come to here.
An appointment was taken south of Baghdad but a one...one am night time the guy called, the emissary said no, that was there is a problem, .. tomorrow.
And the day after the emissary came back and he said there is a problem but they will be released, they are nothing...French and...and in fact this contact failed because this contact had apparently good connections with the people who took us, but not who guarded us, but not with the direction of the Islamic army, the Islamic army is a kind of federation of groups.
So this emissary has close contact with our guard who told him they will be released, they are nothing...the French, but he didn't have the right contacts with the direction of Islamic army. The people who were deciding our fate.
The head of the army?
The head of the army. And finally there was no release on Wednesday he said this Islamic army is afraid of me, he think they think that I am working with the French, I have to leave because they are suspecting me etcetera.
And he had this terrible word don't worry the Fiat is broken but the two Peugeot will be okay. And the Fiat was Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni who was killed this day by our kidnappers and voila. So ..
And you were the two Peugeots?
We were the two Peugeots. And from this moment on Thursday 26th the French got upset, said okay now it's serious, they thought that we would be released after two days, our ambassador was in Paris for the meeting of all ambassadors around the world and on Thursday evening the...told him no, no, go back it's serious and...
So this first connection failed because in the meantime there was a new chief, new emir of the group who came back perhaps one month before who hardened the position of the group and there was conflict between the tough and more moderate people ready to release us people ready not to release us and we had the confirmation on 30th of August, ten days after our capture, when the chief of their internal security service came to us we told him what about our release, we are supposed to be released on Wednesday and nothing happened.
He told us yes but all our troops are concentrating in Falluja, there is an imminent American attack so we thought it was bullshit.
And he told us after your case in fact has been frozen and he introduced, he raised the issue of the veil. So during ten days they were thinking what are they doing with the French, but in the meantime they got a lot of messages from other group guerrilla groups from their group also saying don't touch the French it's ..
It's forbidden to touch. And originally with the chief of the committee in Fallujah send emissary to them saying don't touch the French.
So he send emissary not to release us but not to kill us. And after...they raised this issue of the veil in order to send a message to the French, to know which way the French would which important the French would give us.
But they threaten us the guy on 30th of August because on 28th finally the they will broadcast the first video done on 22nd with .. saying we give the French two days to counsel the law about the veil.
We didn't know abut this matter of course and we are quite calm ...in our small cell eating dates and drinking tea. Suffocating by the heat but okay. And when he came back on Monday yeah he told us imagine that your life could be threatened what you would you say to your government about this law?
And I told him I realised I think 'imagine that your life could be threatened', it's he was threatening me but with kind of with form, with formality, because I remember that American hostages or British they don't say imagine that your life could be threatened they said we will kill you if your troops are not coming out from Iraq.
So I told him if you kill me you will not cancel the law, he said we use you, it's up to you to play the game on that.
I said okay I will play the game. So I said what I think about the law and I called it...and he said to Christian we want to see the reaction in France.
So it was surrealistic, I was remember my but after my arts course, drama course, and said it's like somebody said you have to say that.
So they made it quite clear they were going to use you because you were French to put pressure on your government?
And that in a way you had to play along with it?
Yeah. But which means that immediately after this cassette we said okay now it's a it's .. what does that mean?
Is it .. reading the veil issue we are in Iraq, taken by Iraqis, France is not in Iraq, what does it mean? And we told ourselves no it's .. it's an excuse, it's an alibi.
An alibi. So the night after we were a little bit shocked that we could sleep because we said okay now it's an alibi, they want to see the reaction in France.
So and the day after they came back said okay your prime minister called for your release in Cairo, you are famous now, there are demonstrations in France. There was a kind of ping pong between the...the message sent to the French three days before - 28th - the reaction of the French extremely important that....prime minister sent to the region Chirac talking to the French people on television...they were happy at that.
So they got what they wanted? They were ..
...in a dialogue with the French government?
Certainly. And they told us after we want straight contact with the French, we don't want any emissary...we want straight contact.
But what were they trying to do because they must have known that they couldn't get a law overturned in France, the law on the veil.
So what was the purpose of this? What were they trying to do, raise their profile?
The purpose what do you want to ask the French in Iraq? Nothing. We have no troops, we have no entrepreneur, we are nothing, we are against the law.
They have to find something. But the veil also is a real concern for them for the...movement.
In the car fifteen minutes after our capture one of our kidnappers told in...in Arabic Chirac...Chirac is a dog.. because of the veil.
So no really this law is very bad accepted in Middle East, so for them it's a real concern but there are political groups that didn't want to cancel the law, they know that they couldn't but they found the right the right way to...to the French okay.
But they sent a very strong message and the reaction was extremely strong...we never saw that in...for an hostage crisis.
So I think that they were political minded and after we discovered that they were extremely political minded and very well informed of what what's going on in France.
They wanted something about the law in the negotiations...we want something about the law.
They didn't know exactly the position of the Muslim in France, they asked us are the persecuted? They wanted to know also the figures on the Muslim people in France and they wanted something and in fact I mean their contact say they got something and nothing...we would like after one year revision of the law, it's but it's in the law, but they wanted also Muslim dignitaries part of the parliament committee for the French...we will find a way...
So then they made this second cassette. Now was this different in terms of the way that they put the guns, the way that they did the mask? Tell us about that second cassette.
The guy was sitting in front of me, another guy was sitting beside him with a small camera, he was interviewing us and there was one guy at the door with a machine gun but nothing like that. There was no war décor up.
No banners, no ..
The guy told me imagine that your life I mean if you kill us we will not cancel the law. He said okay we use you.
Now he asked you to imagine this and you said if you kill us you won't get anything out of this. But I think quite soon after that you had experience of their capability of killing with the beheading of the guard of Chalabi. Tell us about that.
Yes. The week after they brought some one guy, they told us he you he was the bodyguard of Chalabi his convoy has been attacked on his way to...to Najaf, we killed a few people around him but he was injured etcetera and so immediately we knew that they would kill him because bodyguard of Chalabi...
And the guy was he was he wasn't able to talk to us, he was not allowed to talk to us and we are not allowed to talk to him, they were treating him said you are a dog, you are a you are working with Chalabi bad guy, Chalabi sold to the Americans etcetera.
He was tall with short hair, well dressed, but his face was livid and...and then they claim that they attack the convoy but Chalabi denied that, they told us okay we will show Chalabi that it's...so they made a cassette of this guy and they broadcast the cassette on...and Chalabi had said no it's not my it's not my bodyguard...the guy was killed after.
How did it affect you knowing that this was going on around you, that this group could be doing such things?
Yeah of course it was tough but it was not a discovery for us I mean these people can be cruel, so you are a little bit selfish, what you're thinking to save your to save your head.
You try not to think about what they're doing to others around you?
Yeah oui. We were very grateful to be French because we told ourselves if Chirac had decided to send troops to Iraq different scenario.
So you're you think about yourself, of course you think about this guy, but Christian told me look there are worse situations than us. When you are deep in the...you think to save your head.
So the days passed, we're now into September in your story, did you realise that there was support building for you at home? Did you hear anything? Did you see television? Did you have any knowledge of what was happening in France?
No they didn't show us any television report...they told us there are demonstrations in France, Muslim are demonstrating for you, you are famous, they told us they repeated us, we didn't ask anything about...about that, and after they transferred us after two weeks the guy told us okay we will put you in a better house.
So we are transferred in a better house where we had a long interview with his boss who came back from abroad, a young guy, and we thought that we would have political conversation with him about the situation, the occupation, the resistance and for forty five minutes that the guy was talking to us about religion, the superiority of Islam towards Christianity etcetera and at the end we ask him what about our release? And it was on 3rdof September the day after the school entry.
So he told us look the French government is much more concerned by the application, the implementation of the law on the veil than your release. And he told us that it could help you if you convert to Islam it could help your release.
So we were destabilised a little bit and it was tough, it was the guy was strict but not like the previous cassette where we could .. you know he was talking to us, he was giving us a kind of sermon, and...
What did you say when he offered you the chance to convert and that said that it would help your release?
No we didn't say anything. So immediately...what we will answer if they come back tomorrow? So we decided with Christian about an answer, we said okay we are, if they come back tomorrow we'll tell them we have been living altogether for nineteen years in the Middle East, we have nothing against Islam, we are living in Jordan, I've been living in the Middle East also for eleven years, but I have a fiancée, I have to ask my fiancée what does she think about that, if she's ready I will convert myself, but we need to be free and Christian will go to Paris to see the Imam of the Muslim Paris so we elaborated a kind of scenario.
Christian was destabilised more because he's more Christian, he's more practising than me, but we were afraid that you know if they come back you have to convert and after you are a Muslim you are completely under their orders so they can put they can drive you to the bombing and they can put you explosive etcetera.
So after each day we said okay...they will come or not and after five, six days they didn't come so perhaps just to just way of pressure on us and in fact for...for two weeks nothing happened, no contact, no visit and on 18 of September the chief of the cell came to us and told us okay you will be released this week, we made contact with the French, we got good sign about the veil, you will be released this week.
You can interview me now, you can ask me questions. So we ask him why it took so long, he told us there were people coming in Iraq or there were people ready to give us one million dollars, we don't want money etcetera, we wanted straight contact with the French and...
So they claimed that it wasn't about money and it wasn't about a ransom?
Yeah. And the guy told us and in fact you have been privileged hostages, look you haven't been bad treated, we put you in a quite reasonable room, we gave you food, your interrogation was short contrary to the Italian journalist we captured the same time than you but he was not according to...journalist he was a spy...so we killed him and at this time the French he was telling us were extremely worried about your fate, which was true.
So we had a talk with this guy and told us you will come back to Iraq, if you are real journalists you will come back etcetera, and after we made our first cassette, another cassette saying I am George...son of Jean and Henriette...so we told ourselves, okay the French want to have the proof that two hostages are in good health etcetera.
So we were relaxed, he told us you will be released this week. So we were relaxed and said okay we'll be released this week and in fact three days later on Tuesday 21st around seven pm the door opened, the guy came and said okay...tomorrow everything is finished, we drive you to Baghdad for your release tomorrow.
So we were driving to Baghdad, a suburb of Baghdad, where we're put in a in a house and I remember I didn't sleep this night because I was excited about the release etcetera and I thought that everything would be fine. It was on 21st the birthday of my girlfriend on 26th I will be able to be in France for the birthday if I was already thinking about the...the life after detention.
And in fact nothing happened the day after and we asked them what's going on they said no, we need a small report, there's a there is a delay.
What was it like having your hopes raised that you were going to be released and then nothing? How did you cope with it emotionally?
It was the first or the second disappointment.
But we said okay, logistical problem. We asked them is there any logistics there. Perhaps yeah. As soon as we get an order we release you.
Two hours, two days, whatever, which means also two weeks or two months. Eh bon. We said okay no if there is a problem etcetera, because the guy was on the 18th he came, cassette, the video, twenty first, driving us from one place to another one, which means taking the risk of transferring us, or if it's true, and the guy who came on the eighteenth said I am mandated.
I am not Mahmoud here taking the responsibility. My boss told me go and see the French, and tell them that.
So there was an order to release us. Bon. After there was a problem so I said, there is a technical problem. Let's wait. Wait on Thursday, Friday and Friday two guards came and they, they put some scent on the - on the window in the toilets.
And they gave us, said okay it's for us it's a bad sign that they - we will stay for a long time. And they gave us also some, shampoo, not shampoo, but toothpaste etcetera. And on Sunday 26th September, the chief of the internal security service came, said okay, we will drive you to a better place.
So they put something on our eyes, tied our hands, and on the way to the car I asked him what, why there was no real reason it was supposed to be. Said it's because of the French. And he added that we made secret contacts, top-secret contact with the French.
Our release is soon, he said I think so. So okay, they put us in the back of the GMC, the kind of coffin with carton, and a lot of...
Cardboard yeah. And er, with sheet on us.
What was it like travelling like that?
The first time it was a little bit panicking because you, you don't know if you will not face an American convoy an American checkpoint, etcetera. And specially this time and it was the 6th of September, it lasted for one and a half hour.
One hundred thirty kilometres around.
You were driven a long way.
Oui, oui. Et bon. You are like that. You wait until the end and you hope that nothing will happen. And in fact we were transferred in a cell of the Islamic army. We spent nineteen days with Mujahedeen, also surrealistic atmosphere, because we are - inside cell.
What was it like?
We were in a very small room. Very, very small room perhaps eight meters squares, with two doors without any windows, etcetera. So it was suffocating. But the guards were nice to us. And there was one of our guard, they called him the - the butcher. It was most probably he was responsible of dirty things, and once we asked him what did you do before the fall of regime?
He told us I was a bodyguard of Abed Hmoud, the personal secretary of Saddam. But he was nice to us. He treated us quite well. He told us we have orders from the direction of our movement to treat you well.
Bon. And also there was another guy we met the Jihadist. An Iraqi who went to Afghanistan for training in Bin Laden Camps and he talked to us also and we could interview him once. He told us okay, it was a Saturday evening, I remember perhaps ten p.m.
He said okay let's come outside the small room in a kind of lobby, interview me. You will be released perhaps, and I know it will be published, interview me.
So he was offering you an exclusive interview?
He told us how do you feel physiologically? We told him not bad, but we don't understand - you treat us well, but the door is not open.
He said you are political card. There are negotiations. We want something about the veil and "Sabr Jamil" as we say in Arabic, "patience is beautiful". Wait.
So we introduced this guy and it was surrealistic, because we asked him about his visions of the world, about it was the beginning of October, if you would vote for Bush or Kerry.
We like Bush because with Bush we are sure that the American troops will stay for long in Iraq, and we can reinforce our strength and our position.
The American intervention of Afghanistan was great because we can spread around the world now, we are in sixty countries, and we want to overthrow mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
And we want to come back to the Khalifa from south of Spain to the border of China. All the Arab countries, the leaders are not legitimate.
So it was clear that this insurrection in Iraq had a foreign Islamic influence - influence allied to Bin Laden.
Yeah - we, we got the feeling now that we were on the Bin Laden planet, because this guy was real, voila, Jihadist - but in fact we discovered after making the, the investigation for the book we are going to publish in May, that there is a mixture inside the Islamic army between Jihadists, and ex Saddamists, or as I told you before. But this guy, this Jihadist, was an example of not foreign influence, he was Iraqi. But Jihadist, pro Bin Laden.
And a follower of Bin Laden.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Salafist and we had this surrealistic talk with this guy.
Did you understand more about their strategy and taking hostages?
Yeah. And he told us voila, we - as the Muslim world now, the Umma, the Muslim community, has been with, we are in self-defence.
We have been attacked in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Chechnya, in Iraq. We are in self-defence. Now we have to bring the fire in your country in Europe, in the American, in the United States etcetera. And we have to fight not, is - he gave us this symbol. If I pick you here...
But if I attack you here you are killed. So we have to make strategic target. We have to choose strategic target. And he was telling us about the pain and the Taba (sp) also bombing.
So he was talking about the use of terrorism and why they would employ this.
Voila. And he told us we want to split Europe from Americans.
And we, we told him you know, what do you have against France? He said okay France it's not our first, it's not a priority France. But we don't like the veil law, etc.
Because we told him there is a hierarchy - you have to, you know the, the western world is not one part. So be a little bit selective in your, in your behaviour in your - in your attitude and voila, we thought during this nineteen days we were immersed in this cell.
For five nights they were bombing around, there was meetings of military experts. They were telling us, asking us don't make any noise today, there is a military meeting just ten metres far from here.
So you were right in the heart of the insurgency?
And as journalists you were anxious to find out everything.
Yeah. And one night, one guy came to us and said okay we will talk. He talked to us and he explained us their way of functioning. He told us we capture people, after we judge them and after there are two tracks.
Negotiations, or execution. He told us you are on the right track. Negotiations. 'Mufawada' in Arabic. 'Sabr Jamil', patience is beautiful. You will be released. But it takes time.
So from that you understood that if you were in the execution line, there was no hope.
You had to be in the negotiation as a hostage.
And did that depend on nationality?
No it depended on the four enemies. They were telling us, their list of four enemies. And we asked him what about journalists? What do you do about journalists? He said usually journalists they reflect the position of their country. So -
So a good idea to be a French journalist a bad idea to be an American one.
For sure. And we asked him why don't you bargain American or British as you did for the Iranian diplomats, or for others? They told us they are dogs, we kill them and we show them to the American people what we, what we do in order to show them also what we are suffering, and what the American troops are doing here.
And they said that about the British as well did they?
When you were being held, did you know that a British hostage, Ken Bigley, had been taken, did you hear anything about that?
We heard on television, because we were sitting here, our guards were sitting just beside us, and sometimes we could hear Al Jazeera in Arabic, and we discovered once that there was one British, two Americans.
And they told us once in fact when we asked the question, it was because they were telling us two American hostages have been killed and one British. So we asked the question about that. Why don't you bargain them?
We knew that yeah. But we knew - we were aware of their cruelty, their, they. No it's terribly sad. You are in the right track. It's okay.
How did you know how long had passed. You are very sure of your dates, your times. Yet you had your possessions taken away from you, your watches. How did you know, and how did you keep track of the time that was passing?
Mainly because every three, four weeks, we were transferred from one place to another, one so it cut the, the detention period in sequences. And also you know, when you are arrested on twentieth of August, the day after you are the twenty-first, and you count the time.
At the beginning we were counting the days, we stopped after we were counting the weeks. After we stopped counting the weeks, we were counting the months.
Hoping that we didn't have to come to the years. But we knew that there was you know, today's - je sais pas, it's thirtieth of March, tomorrow it's the thirty first of March.
Did it help that there were two of you?
Yeah a lot. A lot. We could talk together. And what helped also it's because we were able to speak Arabic with our kidnappers. We had a dialogue with them, which is rare in a hostage crisis - it helped us to gather intentions, the guy who told us you are in the right track.
He was talking to us in Arabic. If we wouldn't have talked in Arabic, no way to this re entrance. From this - from after - after he said okay. They negotiate, we wait. It was our late motive.
But we were also aware that it could, couldn't last for years. Perhaps there will be a crisis and one day they will come with a camera and saying there is a crisis of - French are bad. You can be killed, and in fact it happened on eight of November.
Now tell us about what happened at that time. Tell us what happened in November. What changed?
On eighth of November, the, the chief of the security internal service came and told us, he was angry. Took the calendar on the wall and he took it.
He told us the French, the situation is serious, the French are stubborn, your president is tough. Ask your government to solve your problem. Otherwise you can be killed at any moment.
We know that it's bad, it's harram to kill innocent people, but if we have to do that we will do it. But - voila. So he took Christian into the bathroom, me after, but after the cassette -
He was filming you. They were filming you.
When we were getting out from the toilets, I talked to him. And for the first time I was talking to him at the same level. I was stood up, and I asked him how was the talks.
How were the talks before the crisis? He said the talks were good because we knew one week earlier - our guard told us without asking him anything, I heard conversation down, the responsible of the Islamic army are meeting and I heard that the solution is closed.
But don't say that I told you that. So on first of November, we knew that the solution was closed, so I asked to the guy I wanted him to confirm that. He said yes, we were even ready to give you the Syrian or the Lebanese authority.
The talks were excellent. I told him okay there is a crisis. He told us the France don't want you. Don't worry I told him. He said they want us but perhaps not at your price.
So I remember I did that. Okay Fi mushkila as you say in Arabic. There is a small problem but you will manage to solve the problem and he told us, we asked for a new negotiator, the previous one was not smart etc.
So it was also surrealistic because here the threat was clear, direct. But I managed to talk to him, and he talked to me also.
But la, we couldn't you know, face the problem with cold blood, so Christian collapsed and I collapsed also because we, we took the threat seriously.
You were really frightened at that point.
Yeah, and we are not lucky, because, two days after there was fighting around our jail, and, for two hours, very tough fighting. And the day after they transferred us, on Thursday eleventh of November..
So the Americans were close to the place you were -
Ah oui, we discovered, we were, because twice they let, they left some papers. Plastic bags, bakery Rabat, Al-Amiriya, etc.
So you knew what neighbourhood you were in.
Yeah. And I knew this neighbourhood, so we were forty metres far from the main road going to Abu Ghraib near Airport. So - and we could hear the American convoys etc.
So eleventh of November there was this huge fighting. No, tenth of November there was this huge fighting, so I told Christian we were really unlucky because tomorrow they will transfer us, because we were quite, in nice room etc. We had our habits. You know when you are hostage, after two, three weeks, bah, you organise your life.
Your little patch of territory.
Voila. So the day after, they transferred us, and while we were going to the car, with - hand tied, and eyes covered, the - one of our guard told us the French didn't take the threat seriously. so we said no it's incredible, because after the - the crisis, the cassette of eight of November, we said okay the French will get the cassette and they, they will okay, they will come down and they will make more generous offer and things will, get back. So it was a bad, bad news, and okay we were transferred in the car like usual.
And during the transfer, there was a blow out of the car, along the main road etc; it was - so everything was fine. They managed -
Changed the tyre in the middle of moving you.
With help of other people.
Were you frightened?
Oui, yes, but not so, we felt that they are, they feel confident. The country is not held. There's no checkpoint. It's not like in West Bank and Gaza strip, you have every five kilometres an Israeli check point.
In Iraq you have no American check point, no British check point, perhaps in Basra, the Americas, they can move around as they want. So they managed to fix the car, and when we arrived to the next jail, when he opened the door, he told us who is alive and who is dead?
So we got a big blow on our head la, and we thought that from this moment, that they will kill one of us in order to convince the French and now they have to conclude the deal.
So from eleventh of November until fourteenth of November we had three terrible days, where we were thinking of our death. We were convinced.
For each noise outside, we thought that they were preparing the, the - our death etcetera. So we had - we started to pray at this time and we had three days difficult.
How was it between - what did you do?
We prayed. I never prayed in my life before, perhaps once, so we prayed and we - we took our hands, and yeah. It was tight.
You held hands.
Did you speak about your families?
Yeah. Yeah we, I told Christian if I don't come back, ask them to - ask them to forgive me and er, we were already thinking about the - our testimony - how do you say testament?
Your last will.
Voila, the last will. So no it was tough. Extremely tough. But thanks God on Sunday morning, our guard, the same one, who gave us the new, the first of November that we were closed the solution, he got in the room, he closed the door, and he asked us how do you feel?
'Shlonak' - I said we feel very bad, because we are afraid of being killed. There is - he - there is no threat. Inshallah. The talks will continue. Is there any break down? He said no, no. There is no - the contacts are not.
So you were back on track.
We were, voila. 'Chuay chuay', slowly slowly. And he told us Arafat died, and we have to - there is condolences so it will delay the - but okay, la, we - our heads went above the water.
And one week later, he came back with good news, saying okay now sign a paper and you will be released perhaps in a few days, maximum two weeks.
Were you aware at any time that there was an attack in Fallujah, and that things were very difficult. Many hostages were taken around this time, September, October.
And it was very, very difficult because of the action in Fallujah.
No they told us in October that there was fighting - there is fighting everywhere in Iraq but in Fallujah the - we have, we have to go there, some fighters have to go there etcetera, and we, we took they told us we released Iranians - they released two Italians, they killed the one British and two Americans.
And they, they released two Indonesians, and they gave us some news which was confirming us that there were two tracks.
You said at one point that you were very close to the fighting. You had to move your mattresses and bullets were coming through the windows. Describe that - that for us
On tenth of November, two days after the threat, there was huge fighting around our house between the guerrillas and American troops.
Stationed on the main road, and for two hours they were fighting. They, there was two windows in the - in the room, and - but blinded. And we were sleeping far from the window in order not to get any, debris.
And one of the guard came said okay, stay - don't stay in front of the window, stay down etcetera. So for two hours, we were - behind the pillow, not the pillow, but behind the -behind one -
Mattress. Yeah. So and yeah. We said we are really unlucky - two days before we had the threat. Today we have this huge fighting etcetera. So yeah it was.
So you were right in the middle of the insurgency, and then close to the Americans at that point.
Yeah. Oui. We could hear the American convoy on the main road. Could hear forty meters.
I could recognise the place where we have been detained.
Very frustrating for you.
Yeah. Yeah. Oui. We had another experience three weeks before, when we were in the north also during few nights they were fighting. They were launching Katyusha, the Americans were retaliating. One there was a glass in the toilets broken etcetera.
So now we are in middle of November.
Coming towards December, and you're told by the guard that things are looking better.
Tell us what happened that made you think things were getting better.
After the big threat, eleventh of November, fourteenth of November our guard told us okay now. There was a problem and Inshallah, it will resume etcetera. On twenty-first of November, one week later, he came back very early in the morning, said okay, sign this copy of Azzaman - an Iraqi newspaper Christian George etcetera.
So the newspaper of the day so that...
Voila to get the confirmation - and write a small piece to my mother, to my father, I ask my government please ask my government to release me etcetera.
We are in good health but - so we told ourselves the game of the video cassette is over. After the threat of eight of November.
For the French ask for proof of life, Iraqis told them okay we will give you one.
We were counting the days. So okay maximum two weeks. Means ten, twelve days. The window of opportunity will get open after ten, twelve days. And in the meantime, we will find that our treatment was better. They gave us tea every morning; sometimes they gave us an apple at two o'clock in the afternoon etcetera.
Bon, we counted the days. One week, nothing. Bon, of course it was normal. Ten days nothing. Twelve nothing. Fourteen nothing. Said okay bon, perhaps there is a small delay. We are used to.
And on the - on six of December, which is fifteen days after the announcement, one small guard came to us around eight p.m. and told us patience, the news are good. And he was giving us at this time the shampoo.
Shampoo to wash you hair. What did that mean to you?
And he told us you have to be nice to go back to Paris etcetera. So we told him Shukran - and another guard was showing us his socks, and there was Eiffel tower on - on the socks. He said look Paris. Etcetera. Bon. We felt that the -
Atmosphere was changing.
The atmosphere was changing. And on tenth of December, Friday tenth of December, our guard who gave us the news,- would be released maximum two weeks, which was not true, came to us. The same. We call it in the book, the angel guard, angel guardien - how do you say in English?
The guardian angel.
The guardian angel.
Okay so tell us about this guard.
So on tenth of December, Friday tenth of December, our guard - we called him after for the book, the guardian angel - came finally to us, and told us you will be, you can be released at any moment now, we are waiting for the order to get you released.
Positions have been - closed. And voila. So we asked him he said okay, any moment you can be released. So, it was tenth of December. Said okay the French will do their maximum, their utmost to get us released for Christmas etcetera.
So we were hoping but without any euphoria because in the - the - since the threat on eighth of November we were still, voila, we were still praying etcetera, hoping that no bad news today etcetera.
So um, and in fact on eighteenth of December, they, they - the chief of the internal security service came back with a camera for the final cassette. He told us we need a last picture for the - we need a picture for the last action, you are close to your freedom.
And he filmed us from the top to the bottom walking, etcetera.
Because the French wanted to know that we were not only alive, but without any injuries etcetera.
What, that your arms and legs hadn't been injured in any way.
Voila. So we - it was funny, because it was you know, each morning of Saturday eighteenth of December, I was telling Christian, I said remember three months ago it was exactly Saturday seven - eighteenth of September and we - we made this cassette we are supposed to be released.
Perhaps today it will come, and he came the guy. Or we call it the liberation cassette. And in fact three days after, we were released.
Mais - and it was because on twenty-first, I come back on twenty-first of November, our angel guardian came the morning remember, sign the thing etcetera. The French will get the papers through a third part.
And the night of this day on twenty-first, we saw our - the guy, the chief of the security service, who came, who threatened us two weeks before. He opened the door. He said good news. But this guy was for us not the bad guy, but he was always bringing us bad news.
So when he told us good news, we were not even able to ask him what's bad, what's good news? He told us okay Christian, do you need, do you need any winter clothes? We will give you, because it was cold.
So he gave us winter clothes, and said okay Christian, come. And he asked Christian to say I am Christian Chesnot blah blah blah and he ran away, I told him only one? he said only one and he ran away.
So after I said okay, perhaps they will release only one and I will stay alone in jail.
That was a bad moment.
It was a bad moment, but immediately I said no, there was you know, there was this crisis of eleventh, eight of November, - the first, apparently they overcame the crisis. The French asked for another proof of life.
The morning they came with a piece of paper. We sign it. The French gave the piece of paper a few hours later. Not enough. Because it is not enough. We need a proof - we need a video.
The guy came back said okay; we will play the French but not totally. So only Christian, and when the French got the cassette they were worried about me.
Where is George? I understand there was an Iraqi paper who wrote that I have been sick, and I was sent abroad and I don't know what. So the French were worried but this cassette had a goal.
That they tormented the suspense. Of the head of one of us. After the cassette of threat, there couldn't be any other cassette except the liberation cassette, otherwise - the crisis was useless for them. They had to maintain the suspense.
It was all thought out very carefully. The suspense, the politics of hit, how it would be received?
Yeah. Oui. It was, machiavellian.
Machiavellian but it's - it's a game.
Okay so what happened then with the release? Tell us that story of how they came for you, the journey
On, on - the morning of the release our cameraman came, non. In the morning on twenty-first of December around nine, nine thirty, in the morning, our guard, angel guard, guardian angel.
Your guardian angel.
So on twenty-first of December, around nine thirty a.m. our guardian angel came to our jail with a mirror and a comb. Broken mirror and I said okay, please because there will be an interview by a responsible, so you have to be nice. Etcetera.
So for the first time we saw our heads in the mirror, and we discovered that things were not so bad. So we had long hair but we were not bad. We lost a few kilos but things were not bad.
And after we had a long interview with the camera man that brought so far etcetera, with two shirts, and he told us we will make a long interview, asking usual questions, what do you think about the resistance, why you have been in Iraq, what do you think about the veil in France.
But also unusual questions, what do you - why the French are in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, what's the difference, the relationship between the French and the Americans, because they saw that they, we are like the Americans, we are member of the same. We said okay, we are.
It's like in Iraq, you are member of, you have tribes, big tribes - so, we are the same tribe as Americans. Western world etcetera. But sometimes you know between branches of the tribe, there is big problem. So don't think that we are completely aligned with Americans. Sometimes there are fine.
We wanted also to, to show them that we are not UK - if I can say. So and we tried to convince them and they were asking us also about which benefit - what benefit you will, your detention brought you.
Said benefits, perhaps not the right term and he told me no, which, which consequences. I said okay we got finally used to the stuff, so it was the first time.
Said yes and you - you have been in jail, said briefly under Saddam. But um, voila and we thought that it would be for the - for the Internet web site.
But it wasn't broadcasted after our release, and in fact we discovered after in our investigation, that this long cassette could have been used in case of problem. Like it happened with Giuliana Sgrena. For them it's a security. Said look, we have
But they had released you in good shape.
Voila. And it was finished around eleven, eleven thirty and he told us you would be released today or tomorrow. So we thought it would be perhaps tomorrow.
And finally at the three thirty, two guards came, one of them told me bye bye Paris. And he put me in a veil and we were sent in the back of a Mercedes and - and we were - we drove, they drove for twenty minutes.
And we were quite surprised to be released along the main, the highway. So -
Did you know, when you were in the Mercedes, that this was the moment that was going to be the last moment?
The moment of release.
Why, how did you know?
They told us bye bye Paris. And you will be released today or tomorrow. Bon, but we were extremely worried that, that the sequences of the liberation - the release.
Because we told our self from day one, said until we are not in the car of the French embassy, we are not released. And in fact they were very nervous along the highway, when we - the back door open, I saw the French ecusson on the - the car, the...
Voila, the badge, I felt coming back and among the family but we saw also you know guns from the Islamic army and the French guy from the DGSE (French Secret Service) - there was a kind of guy that had, one guy from the Islamic army told him you want to see them?
He said no I want to see, I want them. So the guy called us and there was - because they were extremely worried that the French gave the Americans information of the location of the release, and at the last moment they would be kept. So voila. But when we entered the car of the French embassy we started realising that we perhaps things would - were - would be okay and voila.
That's the end And our French ambassador came with a bottle of champagne and - some people from the intelligence, one doctor came to us just to see if which state of - would be we were - and if we can be interviewed by the French intelligence, and he saw that we were not in a bad shape, so after we were interviewed for three hours, and after we had our first dinner with forks and knife...
What was that like?
Last four months. It was good.
What did you eat?
Chicken - as we ate for three months almost every day but we couldn't ask for - and voila.
And it was then you began to realise exactly what had happened in France during all those long months. How did you know that? You were given.
We - we realised what happened in France mainly the day after our release when we - took off with the French helicopter in Baghdad, they gave, the French gave us press book, press review. So we discovered - we had a first view when our ambassador welcomed us. He gave us a small review of interventions.
Non, non. Mais - Arafat calling for our release.
Iran, everybody in the Arab world, and also Chirac going to the French television etcetera. So we had a first - touch a lot.
It touched you.
A lot. Especially the intervention of Chirac. Because we discovered the ultimatum. We discovered that the movie but from the other side. End of August the panic in France. We discovered the mobilisation in France and in the Arab world and we were touched.
You didn't know that your lives, you were given, there was a deadline set on - on your lives?
Perhaps we started I started saying perhaps were we strong or unaware? Because we were quite strong during the four months, we could talk to the kidnappers, we reacted with co cold blood we had
You were strong
Bad moments, terrible psychological pressures but broadly speaking we, remained, three quarters of the time journalist, .. OK perhaps one day there was five people ready to kill us and six not ready. So perhaps it was very close to our hand, so no it was - and I remember when I read the, the review Christian, midnight when we went to sleep for the first time in a bed I cried because we realise .. we realise the seriousness of the, the suffer.
Did you ever feel that government would abandon you in that situation?
No, non. No.
We feared it's after the threat of 8th November we told ourselves then the main concern is the French abandoning us but it's OK they had been negotiating for two months, they can't abandon us, we know the policy of the French government is to take their hostages in Lebanon, in the Caucasus, everywhere,
Negotiate. So and, we had been for twenty years in .. together, we know many diplomats, it's not because they know us and they will negotiate but it was also personal touch and, so no never we thought that they will not, they will not, try their maximum, we're not sure of the, the reason and we're not sure especially of the term our release, our .. but no.
Do you think money was paid, a ransom by the French government?
I don't know.
Do you think so?
I have no idea about our case, I know that it's not unusual but in our case I don't know. But I don't think it was the main reason for the four months detention. When our ambassador sent mail to the Islamic Army in - e-mail - there was a clear claim from the Islamic Army they wanted political insurance that the French would never send troops to Iraq and it was done by...at the UN General Assembly, he said: not today, not tomorrow there will be French troops in Iraq.
So they got what they wanted which was a political.
Exactly it was not difficult the French as always said will never send any troops in Iraq.
So what did the hostage takers get at the end of the day?
Perhaps on the veil some you know readjustment but very easy the law is already planning that.
So they didn't really get very much, politically, just profile?
I don't know because on the 8th and 9th of January when there was a, the, Chirac was gathering the press for the, the New Year saying it would be a happy new year et cetera he talked to a colleague of mine who have congratulating for the strong reaction the French government had in, mainly in August, he said: yes it's true that there is what you know, there is what you don't know and there is a political cost of that.
Though what is the political cost I don't know, we ask perhaps it's you know the French also ask at the Sharm el Sheik conference that the, the armed group can be allowed to be part of the political process if they give up their arms, so. But I don't know.
But to the outside world it seemed as if at the end of all those months of captivity the hostage takers hadn't gained very much except high profile.
High profile - otherwise visa for the, they ask - one of their, you know their political UNCLEAR is a kind of, political v.. ask once he met him once in Beirut, he said, what we can get from the French?
We'd like form them freedom of movement of the C..., in France. And UNCLEAR told him, it's a bad idea because the, the French C... are close to Saudi Arabia and you don't like Saudi Arabia he said, what we can get from the French?
And B...told him:' askaskask the French not to send any troops to Iraq, not to change the policy towards Iraq et cetera.ra. And ask him, what's the impact of the crisis in France?
When you came home to France, to your girlfriend, what was that like?
Ah it was, it was er, it was nice.
Did you feel responsible for everything you'd put them through, the videos they had to watch, the fact that you'd been
It was in fact a question I askesked myself once to Christian: are we, are we, are we guilty or are we victim?
What do you think?
No we are victim, we are guilty of what, to be not very cautious and we are, we are not guilty of anything. Or except to do our job. We are a victim of the chaos.
So when I sometimes I as thinking it's a, I was not worrying about my case but I was worrying about the sadness of my girlfriend, my parents et cetera you know, you are seventy-six and you impose an ultimatum it's tough, it's tough for parents. So, um, when I called them from the airport in Cyprus when we arrived that we're OK the two of us.
It's awful for them, my father collapsed a little bit even though he was the strongest he collapses during the four months of detention but, the women, my girlfriend, mother were supposed to be the weak sex, they were extremely strong, extremely strong. And - it was no it was, when I took my mother it was really a strong feeling.
They had to watch those videos of you
How do you feel about that, do you think that the media should show these videos? It's part of the game?
Yeah. I have no religion about that no it's, sometimes you know you need to play some part of the game, if you negotiations to start or to, I don't know.
But not to no you don't have to broadcast execution et cetera - so if it can help the release of the two to try to make the contacts good, why not? But of course not to broadcast the, the killing or the threat or the...
Don't you think the media become part of this by showing these videos, even become implicit in it?
Of course, of course but what, what to do? They bring the camera, they bring the cassette to Al Jezeera office et cetera, oh they - Al Jezeera was also for the first time in the, the press release of an hostage.
Bien sûr, of course the media that we are living in - they, they are playing with internal personnel yeah of course.
But it, it's also perhaps a good thing because it, it's er, a way of telling UNCLEAR these people. Of course it's... bien sûr, amiss if it can help the release or the, the, to start negotiations.
You know as soon as you decide to go and take a hostage from the position of the British government, as soon as you start you decide OK we want to negotiate, you put hand in dirty position or dirty situation but only the result counts of that.
Not only but you know Americans sold weapons to Iran in the 80s, nobody can give lessons on this issue but the most important thing is to bring back the hostage.
How important was it in your case and in that of the hostages that public opinion was mobilised?
Well it was extremely important - after the ultimatum they send a message the French which importance do you give to these two guys? And the level of reaction of the French government was very well accepted by our kidnappers.
They told us, they saw that the French were becoming in consideration seriously the issue contrary to Berlusconi with Baldoni. So it's very important for that. At the beginning to, to start the negotiations, to start them because if you have no answer - you have two guys floating on the, in the air and it's a poor situation.
So you think
So mobilisation is important, at least at the beginning after yes.
Do you think it matters that it might've made a difference in some of the other hostages cases?
I think what is important is really mobilisation in order not forget the hostages. But if your government say, OK we don't deal with don't bargain with terrorists, your case is, is over.
So the mobilisation yes it to force your government to take care of you, is to also well not to forget also for the hostage but not to be forgotten. And to play a kind of incentive for the government to get them released. But if the position of your government is no way that they are, well it doesn't last long if there's no contacts after two or three weeks.
Did you give advice to the Italians about Guiliana Sgrena and how they should conduct the raising of public opinion in their country, did you talk to them, what did you tell them?
We said that we, we in our case mobilisation was helpful at the beginning and they should do the same thing, they should do the same especially after the Baldoni's case where there was a floating moment.
Do you think your case gave information and direction to the hostage groups as to how to conduct future cases?
No I think unfortunately our case gave ideas to other groups, perhaps, I don't know. Now it seems that it's a sad game in Iraq - I advise, follow the advice of our kidnappers, don't come back,...you know they saw the profit they can make some profit not in terms of money or anything no but in terms of profile et cetera
And money for some of the groups
Yeah for some groups, yeah, yeah. So, it's a terrible, it's a sad game now. So um, and a stupid game they know what they can get many, many things from, from this, from this crisis, so...
So don't go back that's your message?
Tactically now and for the short term, for a period don't go back, don't play their game. They're waiting for us.
Do you think that hostage taking will remain a tactic not just in Iraq but in other wars where a strong force the Americans, the British as against a very different kind of force and that this other force sees hostage taking as something that they can benefit by? Asymmetric warfare it's sometimes called.
When there is a .. when there is yeah, this is a new phase, it's a new - but I'm not a specialist on that.
You must have some views?
Well you know I know it depends on the - it depend on the background of the, the country you know and the groups, in Palestine, Palestinians recently in the same what fifteen years never took any hostages, even an Israeli hostage.
It was, there are rules there. In Iraq the Iraqis also, Iraqi history is violent, you are very well located to know that, so the Iraqi, they, they think that their country is occupied they have,
Did you have any sympathy with your hostage takers?
We, no, we, no we are not, we are not naive. We used good conditions in order to calm down our strength and in order to get - it's much better to have good relationship with your kidnappers than bad relationship.
To have a tea, to have, to go to the bathroom, et cetera but we are absolutely not naïve about their cruelty, their determination to kill, if they have to kill you.
The butcher was nice to us, was nice to us. Nice in the sense that he gave us food, he talked to us, but he was a butcher, he told us: I am a butcher, so if he got an order to kill us he would have killed us immediately.
And we knew that but we knew, we were on the, on the right track, that without any talked about that cruelty. So no Stockholm Syndrome. Not at all. But we were lucky to be taken by a political group with a particular way of reading the situation.
Is your life, will your life be different now, will you ever be the same?
I think the same and different. Same because it was not so long and there were many people who suffered much more than me, especially hostages.
But different also because it's a tough experience. And, you know there is before and after and, yeah in terms of the way you see the future, the way you, you see the, the priority in your life also, it's not it's a tough experience and, it change, it change you and also your, give you a sense of gravity.
What was your worst moment?
Oh it was during the, from the 11th November to the 14th November, the three days where, we thought they would kill one of us. And it was tough. Tough.
98% of the time we were extremely pessimistic and sometimes said no go, they've been negotiating for two months they would not, and at that point the hostage has no value, sometimes we are trying... But it lasted just for three days and our guard it was nice to come to tell us, what do you, what do you feel?
It was alright up and down, we laugh, we cried, they treated us well, threaten us, we are friends but we're all for four months detain, the longest hostage yeah - up and down and immediately the first day I told Christian because I read the book of Terry Anderson - one of the lesson up and down, they will tell us, you will be released today and nothing will happen there, so we have to fight against that.
After you were released and you received the press pack on your way home and you read it, you learnt something about your girlfriend that she went to your region and made a speech, tell us about that when you read this and how you reacted, what she'd done.
On 30th August there was a gathering in my village, it was the day of the expiration of the ultimatum and Sylvie read a message and when I read the, the message in, in the press and, in the helicopter, on my way back to France I said to myself, eh it's very well done, who, who, wrote the message for her because she, she doesn't know a lot about Middle East, about Islam et cetera and so when I met her I said to her, I told her, who, who took your, your pencil?
Who hold your pencil - it's me and I was very touched by that because she was referring to the - the power of Islam and...and she was appealing to the sense of the first, she was appealing to the, she was hoping that the, the kidnappers would remind them the first link with humanity. So I think she - she used very sensitive words.
You found out other things after you were released particularly about the contacts between the French government and the kidnappers and the methods of communicating, now what did you discover?
We discovered that, that there in fact the first direct contacts was done by through e-mail from, 15th September then ... sent a mail to a third party in Amman, we are the friend of the French journalist, without any sign or Islamic Army or reference et cetera and the third party brought the mail to the French Ambassador in Amman who brought it to back to, to send to back to, to Paris.
And the French reacted the day after that... we are interested by contacts but we need proof of life and it was the cassette of the 18th September and for ten days there were around ten mails
Between our ambassador in Baghdad, Bernard Bajolet, he is able to write in Arabic and with the kidnappers and afterwards this e-mail connection was cut by the intrusion of the French MP Didier Julia who broke the connection but it was I think for the first time in the, the hostage crisis the contact was made by through, through e-mail.
And, the, the language was quite, was not...there were three earlier claims, no French troops in Iraq, security measures for the release, don't say anything to the Americans, don't deal with any emissary, no money et cetera. And the third condition was about we need something about the veil. There was a kind of ping-pong.
So ping-pong by electronic mail - of course you
And everybody could've would be able to see that. Every foreign, intelligence service could, could see that because it was on this, it was an, regular e-mail address of our Ambassador in Baghdad.
So of course you were hostages in the digital age, the internet age, that's what's so different about Iraq is the use of the internet.
Yeah thy were very well informed out in .. sometimes they were referring in the mail of the speech of the spokesman of the foreign ministry, not Chirac or Barnier for instance, the spokesman.
So they had very
They had a team of people watching on internet.
They told you that?
We discovered that.
So they were able to use computers, they understood the internet, they were able to communicate using the internet?
They were yeah, once the chief of their internal securities told us, we, we make contact with our correspondents in France - I don't know if it's true but I'm sure that when they wanted to check our ID they, they - they put George M.. on Google
They Google-ed you?
They Google-ed me and Christian
To get information about you?
Yeah. And also they, they got my computer where I had all my, my, the books I wrote, about Israel, Palestine, .. et cetera, it was written in Fran, French, but, they discovered that I was based for ages in Palestine, but there was also appeal from Hamas, from Arafat, et cetera, so they, they were well informed, well informed, politically minded.
Was their connections between the French Secret Service and other secret services of Britain, other countries, are the secret services able to give the French information about your?
There was a co-operation between services but not so much. And, and the problem for the French intelligence was they were operating in, hostile country without any help.
Because they couldn't rely on the, on the Iraqi, they didn't want. They couldn't rely on the Iraqi government, they couldn't rely on the coalition forces, they didn't want. And, so it was tough for them to, to find the right connection, the right way to get in touch with the Islamic Army which was a new entity in last summer.
The Americans didn't help, they didn't... apparently but they didn't help.
So they were neutral?
They were neutral yeah. It's nothing for the, the case of two French journalists, they don't care, they have much more, much bigger problems - but our kidnappers were extremely worried that the French would give information to the Americans, no don't worry there, they are not stupid.