Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 12:03 UK

Journalist tells of Iraq kidnap

Mr Butler said he feared he would be killed

A British journalist held hostage for more than two months has described for the first time the terrifying moment when he was captured by Iraqi militia.

Richard Butler, 48, told the BBC how gunmen dragged him from his hotel into a car, put him in a hood, and drove him to an unknown location in Basra.

The father-of-two, who works for US TV network CBS, said there were times when he thought he would be killed.

He also paid tribute to the Iraqi army, which rescued him earlier this month.

Mr Butler, originally from Kent but now living in France with his wife and two children, was working as a field producer in Basra when he was captured.

Men with balaclavas

He told Kate Silverton in an exclusive interview for the BBC how he was staying at the Sultan Palace Hotel with his translator and minder on the night of his kidnap on 9 February.

Mr Butler, who has worked for Newsweek, the Sunday Telegraph and the New York Times, described how he was woken at 0100 local time by members of the Mehdi Army - the military muscle of Iraq's urban Shia Muslims - who were checking identity documents.

I was pushed into the foot well and they drove off at speed
Richard Butler

"That wasn't any great surprise," he said.

"But then one-and-a-half hours later we got woken up, this time by eight policemen in the room - two or three had balaclavas on and they had AK-47s."

He was dragged downstairs to what he describes as two white police vehicles.

"I was pushed into the foot well and they drove off at speed," he said

Forced to wear a balaclava the wrong way round so he could not see, Mr Butler was first taken to a building he recognised as a police station and then handcuffed.

At this point he believed everything "would be okay eventually".

Translator released

But after taking him on a detour, his captors then headed towards the desert.

"There is only one reason to go out into the desert," said Mr Butler, who has been to Iraq more than 10 times.

Asked if he was prepared for the fact he could have been killed, he replied: "Yes."

Richard Butler after his release
Mr Butler, pictured after his release, has covered conflicts around the world

Despite his fears, Mr Butler was eventually taken to a building where he said the "mood changed" for the better and his handcuffs were loosened and moved to the front of his body.

But he was later forced to record a video appealing for help from the British and Iraqi governments and his family.

Three days into the kidnapping, the captors released his translator, leaving Mr Butler alone.

He said his lowest point came when he falsely heard the translator had been killed, and he believed that to be the case for nine weeks. It was only after his release that he heard the translator was "alive and well".

'Very lucky find'

Without his translator, Mr Butler struggled to communicate with his kidnappers, but was aware of their "genuine concern" for his "wellbeing".

When he suffered a bout of food poisoning, they went to find him food and eventually sent for a doctor who treated him for dysentery.

But what he found hardest during those hours was thinking of his family.

"I made a decision to shut them out. I had to protect myself from that," he said.

I heard the door burst open and I was aware of someone holding an AK47 at me - so I started to make him aware that I was British
Richard Butler

Then, on April 14, Mr Butler was released with the same speed he was kidnapped in what he describes as a "very, very lucky find" by the Iraqi army. It is believed they were looking for a weapons cache.

"There was no warning whatsoever and when it happened it happened very quickly."

Iraqi troops stormed the building and "there was shooting everywhere", he said.

"I heard doors being kicked in, people shouting in the hallway outside the room.

"I heard the door burst open and I was aware of someone holding an AK-47 at me - so I started to make him aware that I was British."

One soldier took Mr Butler outside, "almost lifting him" off the ground.

"The sunlight was so bright it was a real shock," he said.

Amid wild gunfire, with bullets "pinging off the walls", he was dragged to the safety of the Iraqi army commanding officer and his vehicle.

He went on to pay tribute to the professionalism of his Iraqi army rescuers, who he said were "genuinely very pleased for themselves and pleased for me".

But he added that he still felt compelled to report from Iraq because it was important the world knew what was going on there.

"The vast majority of Iraqi people that I have met and worked with are lovely people and they deserve better."

British journalist freed in Iraq
14 Apr 08 |  Middle East
Abducted Iraqi interpreter 'free'
13 Feb 08 |  Middle East
CBS journalists missing in Iraq
12 Feb 08 |  Middle East

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