Editor’s note: The Drudge Report posted a memo from Fox News President Roger Ailes alleging Aaron Klein falsely accused Fox News of paying $2 million to free its abducted employees. WND Editor Joseph Farah responds to that claim in this statement.
Steve Centanni of Fox News
JERUSALEM – Palestinian terror groups and security organizations in the Gaza Strip received $2 million from a U.S. source in exchange for the release of Fox News employees Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, who were kidnapped here last summer, a senior leader of one of the groups suspected of the abductions told WND.
The terror leader, from the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees, said his organization’s share of the money was used to purchase weapons, which he said would be utilized “to hit the Zionists.”
He said he expects the payments for Centanni and Wiig’s freedom will encourage Palestinian groups to carry out further kidnappings.
Officials associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and its security organization, the Preventative Security Services, confirmed to WND money was paid for the release of the Fox News reporters.
A senior leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, the declared “military wing” of Fatah, said the group received a small percentage of the $2 million, which all parties interviewed said was transferred in cash.
Centanni and Wiig were released last August after being held hostage by terrorists in Gaza for nearly two weeks. Shortly before their release, a video was issued showing the two dressed in beige Arab-style robes and appearing to convert to Islam. Wiig, a New Zealand citizen, gave an anti-Western speech, with his face expressionless. Centanni later explained he and Wiig were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint.
One week after the abduction WND broke the story a clan from the Gaza Strip which leads terror cells of the Popular Resistance Committees were prime suspects in the kidnappings. Senior Palestinian officials told WND their investigation into the abductions led them to the Dugmash family, based in Khan Yunis and Gaza City. They said they have “evidence” the clan was “heavily involved.”
Members of the Dugmash clan lead the “Saladin resistance department” of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella of Palestinian terror groups which previously carried out anti-U.S. attacks, including the bombing in 2003 of a U.S. convoy in Gaza in which three American government contractors were killed. The Committtees is also responsible for scores of anti-Israel shooting attacks and bombings and for a large number of rocket attacks against Jewish communities near Gaza.
Cameraman Olaf Wiig
The senior leader of the Committees, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, would not say whether members of his group carried out the Fox News kidnappings, but he admitted the Committees received money for “aiding” in the release of Centanni and Wiig.
The terror leader said $2 million cash was transferred to the Preventative Security Services, the main Fatah security forces in Gaza, for distribution to various parties.
He said the largest portion of the money was provided to the Committees’ Dugmash clan, which Israeli security officials say is heavily involved in the smuggling of weapons and drugs into Gaza and which openly has led anti-Israel terror attacks on behalf of the Popular Resistance Committees. The Committees leader would not provide the exact sum transferred to the clan, but said it exceeded $1 million.
Smaller sums of cash were given to select members of the Preventative Security Services, officially to pay them as “private citizens” for working overtime to free Centanni and Wiig, the terror leader said. He said most of the Security Services members who were paid are associated with elements of the Dugmash clan. A member of the Security Services confirmed the cash transfers.
A sum of about $20,000 was provided to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, the Committees leader said, explaining the organization was paid to avoid conflict with militants from Abbas’ Fatah party. The Committees is closely associated with Hamas, while the Brigades is a member of the rival Fatah party.
A leader of the Brigades in the northern Gaza Strip confirmed the money was received but maintained his group was not involved with the kidnappings.
The Popular Resistance Committees leader said aside from the large cash transfer to the Dugmash section of his group, the Committees as an organization received about $150,000.
He said the money was used to purchase weapons.
“We used 100 percent of the money for one precise goal – our war against the Zionists,” the Committees leader said.
He said weapons purchased included rockets.
“Regarding the others (the Dugmash clan of the Committees) who received the money, I can tell you one thing is very clear – this went also to be used against the Zionists. I can’t say every cent went to buy bombs, maybe it also went to pay for salaries, smuggling, buying shelter.”
The Committees leader said he “knows” the money came from the U.S. as part of a deal to free Centanni and Wiig but could not identify exactly which organization or government entity transferred the cash.
Fox source says it’s possible
A spokeswoman for Fox News Channel told WND she could not provide an official statement about whether Fox was aware of money paid to free its two employees.
A source at Fox told WND many parties were involved with the freedom of Centanni and Wiig, including the U.S. government, and that it was possible money was paid.
A State Department spokesman said his agency did not pay for the release of the Fox News employees.
The senior Committees leader and members of Fatah’s Preventative Security Services told WND that as part of the cash transfer, leaders of the Security Services pledged to ensure against further kidnappings of Americans in the Palestinian territories.
But the Committees leader balked at the promise.
“This is just so the Americans can turn the affair into a beautiful thing by saying they have a pledge,” said the terror leader.
“Maybe the Preventive Security Services took the promise but we didn’t. They have no way of enforcing it. The Palestinian groups can still kidnap Americans. Maybe for a short period the groups will not kidnap Americans to show respect for the promises, but if there is an escalation, we will not hesitate to kidnap Americans.”