UPDATED: Ammar Al-Hamdan, a Norwegian cameraman who works for worldwide news service Al-Jazeera, has been released in Libya, with the help of the Palestinian authorities and President Mahmoud Abbas, after being captured by government authorities six weeks ago. Norwegian officials, meanwhile, are maintaining their support for Norway’s involvement in the NATO-led military intervention in Libya.
Al-Hamdan, a Norwegian citizen with an Iraqi and Palestinian background, was originally arrested on March 7 and held in the country’s capital, Tripoli, along with three co-workers. Previous announcements of his release turned out to be false, but the latest news was confirmed by his partner, Yngvil Mortensen, who told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the “six-week-long nightmare is over” and that the cameraman was “free and staying in Tunis,” the capital of neighbouring country Tunisia.
‘Born again’ with a longer beard
In an interview with NRK, Al-Hamdan described how he had been accused of being a double-agent working for both Norway and Qatar, which houses the global headquarters of Al-Jazeera. After his colleagues were released before him, the cameraman became scared that he might be killed. “Gaddafi has been in power for 42 years,” he commented. “I have been in jail for 42 days, and when I was set free, it felt as if I was born again.” He quipped that the only change that had affected him was “with my beard.” Al-Hamdan was quizzed by the security services about NRK’s own team in eastern Libya, and asked for their mobile numbers. The government believes the journalists are in the country illegally.
Early, his partner Mortensen stated that all four Al-Jazeera colleagues had “been well treated” by their captures, although Al-Hamdan himself later described the actions of their interrogators, who blindfolded the four captives during questioning, as “rough.” They were first held in the same cell in an airbase near Tripoli for 14 days, before being transferred to an institution similar to a hospital three hours before the NATO bombings began.
Help from the Palestinian President
Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, was also pleased with the news. In a foreign ministry press release, Støre said that he was “happy” and “would like to thank all those that contributed to what has happened,” adding that the foreign ministry “had made use of several different channels in the work to find a solution” and had enjoyed “close and good cooperation with Al-Jazeera and Al-Hamdan’s family in Norway.”
The foreign ministry would not give precise details on how the release had been obtained, but Støre himself has spoken to Al-Hamdan, who afterwards thanked the minister when speaking to NRK. Støre later told NRK that the release was “more exciting” than if Norwegian agents had been on the ground in Libya. Later still, Støre confirmed that the Norwegian government had worked closely with Palestinian authorities in order to gain his release. “Our good network in the Palestinian milieu has been very important,” said Støre. “That includes also going right up to President Mahmoud Abbas, who has personally engaged himself in this case. I will not talk openly about what Abbas has done, but he has had an opportunity to apply pressure. He has also helped with creating publicity and awareness around the case.”
Mission continues with Norwegian support
Meanwhile, as a number of western leaders emphasized their desire to continue with the Libyan mission, the Norwegian government also pledged its support. Støre told newspaper Aftenposten that Colonel Gaddafi’s “legitimacy as leader is not recognized by the international community.” Nonetheless, the minister, drawing comparisons with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, also said that Norway “believes that the Libyan conflict will be decided by Libyans” and that people “must be very careful with saying ‘not by all Libyans,’ or to exclude the political infrastructure in today’s Libya.”
Støre and foreign ministry officials were also discussing during the international conference in Berlin whether to supply further fighter jets to the military operation, something which NATO has reportedly asked for. Earlier, the Norwegian government has stressed its desire not to sell arms to the rebels or become involved in ground operations and had claimed Norway could not send more than the six jets already supplied to the operation.