Google saves freelance journalist from beheading

Google has helped secure the freedom of a kidnapped freelance journalist after his Iraqi captors keyed his name into the popular search engine, in a last-minute attempt to prove his identity.

John Martinkus, an experienced freelancer, said he was held hostage for almost 20 hours when Sunni kidnappers decided to search online to verify his job was not with the CIA.

Martinkus said throughout his ordeal he pleaded not be killed and appealed that he was neither American nor a spy but rather freelance media.

According to the journo, when Google results showed he was the Australian author of a book detailing how the US faces an uphill struggle in Iraq, it meant his first chance at freedom.

"These guys, they're not stupid," he told reporters on his release. "They are fighting a war but they are not savages – they're not actually killing people willy-nilly. There was no reason for them to kill me," he said.

Conversely, he said British hostage Kenneth Bigley and the other American hostages kidnapped in Iraq suffered different circumstances.

"There was a reason to kill Bigley, there was a reason to kill the (two) Americans," he said. "There was not a reason to kill me," he said.

Mr Martinkus is no stranger to the danger spots around the world, having already worked in East Timor he was in Iraq working this time for SBS broadcasting.

He described his ordeal an "interesting experience," suggesting it was more stimulating than the news feature he had prepared for the past two weeks on Iraqi rebel cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.

An established journalist at Time Magazine has revealed how on behalf of his 35-year-old friend Martinkus, he was negotiating by phone with the Sunni kidnappers to ensure the freelancer's safe return.

Other sources at SBS's Dateline program explained how the book previously written by Martinkus and entitled 'Travels In American Iraq' was "Googled" by insurgents and traced back to a publishing website.

The adventure of the freelancer has gained attention from Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who said the journalist should not have been near the area he was snatched.

Martinkus has hit out at the "ridiculous" claim, insisting he was pinched from the outside the al-hamra hotel – the last remaining stronghold for journalists in Baghdad.


Nov 8, 2004
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