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4 Missing Journalists Are Safe

From left, Danish freelance photographer Johan Rydeng Spanner, Newsday photographer Moises Saman, Jim Rupert, Newsday's deputy editor, Molly Bingham a freelance photographer from Louisville, Ky, and Newsday correspondent Matt McAllester, listen to questions at press conference in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, April 2, 2003.
AP
Four journalists and a peace activist missing since March 24 safely left Iraq Tuesday after being released from a Baghdad prison where they were held for a week, editors said.

Newsday correspondent Matt McAllester and photographer Moises Saman contacted their editors shortly after 1 p.m. EST to say they had crossed into Jordan.

Two other missing journalists, Molly Bingham, a freelance photographer from Louisville, Ky., and a Danish freelance photographer, Johan Rydeng Spanner, were with the two Newsday staffers. The group had been held in a cellblock inside the Abu Ghraib prison since March 25, according to Charlotte Hall, Newsday's managing editor.

An American peace activist, Philip Latasha, also was with the group, Hall said.

Iraqi security guards went to McAllester's Baghdad hotel room early the morning of March 25 and confiscated computers, notebooks, mobile phones, tape recorders and other equipment after several hours of searching the room.

The five were then taken to the prison, where they were held until 11 a.m. Tuesday, Baghdad time. They were not physically harmed, and were given basic food, Hall said.

The journalists told their editors that they were asked if they worked for the CIA and the Pentagon, but no explanation was ever given as to why they were taken into custody or why they were released.

The journalists used a satellite phone to call their loved ones. McAllester called his sister, Janey McAllester, in London, where she works at an art gallery.

"I just shrieked at him, because he was alive. I couldn't stop crying. It was the best news we could wish for," the sister said.

"He said they had been held in prison, but they had been treated OK. I asked him if he was held by people from Iraq's Ministry of Information and he just said: `That's a nice name for them."'

Cheers broke out in the Newsday newsroom as Foreign Editor Dele Olojede took the call from the two journalists. Newsday editor Anthony Marro had said in his paper's Saturday editions that he believed the two staffers were detained by the Iraqi government.

In Louisville, Ky., the family of Bingham, 34, said she had called Tuesday to report that she, too, was safely out of Iraq.

"Molly said she is OK," said her father, Barry Bingham Jr. "She said she had a rough week and sounded tired, but she said she was all right."

Molly Bingham, whose father is the former publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, spent 2@1/2 years as then-Vice President Al Gore's documentary photographer for the National Archives. She also has recorded the plight of beleaguered people and places in Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Burundi, Sudan and Iran.

McCallester's sister, Janey McCalleser, appeared on CBS News' The Early Show on Tuesday morning, before it was known her brother was safe.

"By the early hours of Tuesday, his room and Moises' room had been totally cleared, and they've disappeared. And simply no word or nobody's even claiming they have them at this stage," she said.

She added: "He'd been in Iraq before, and written stories on the plight of the children in the hospitals after sanctions. So there really, it's part of the whole terrible mystery of this thing is we just don't know why he, in particular, is being held."