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Abducted CNN producer released


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Gunmen kidnapped CNN producer Riad Ali from a company van in Gaza.
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- CNN producer Riad Ali was released Tuesday, almost 24 hours after he was abducted by armed gunmen, and is now in the custody of Palestinian police.

"We are obviously enormously relieved that our producer, Riad Ali, has been released today," said CNN President Jim Walton. "His ordeal serves to highlight the dangers faced by journalists around the world and we at CNN are grateful that this incident ended the way it did."

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat spoke with Ali by telephone after he was freed and congratulated him on his release.

Shortly before his release, a videotape surfaced in which Ali explained he was being held by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement.

On the tape, Ali, 42, explained in Arabic that he is a Druze Arab and that his father and other members of his family have served in the Israeli military.

No demands were made on the tape.

The Druze Arabs are an Arabic-speaking, non-Jewish minority in Israel. Many Druze have served in the Israeli military.

On the video, which was recorded while he was held captive, Ali called for the Druze not to serve in the Israeli military, saying that the cause of the Druze is the same as that of the Palestinians.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman said the abduction occurred about 6:35 p.m. Monday just after he, Ali and CNN photographer Mary Rogers had left their Gaza City office in a taxi.

A white Peugeot pulled in front of them, blocking their way, Wedeman said, and a man in his early 20s, dressed in civilian clothes, emerged from the car, stuck a revolver through the taxi window and "said to me in Arabic, 'Which one of you is Riad?' "

"We were dumbstruck at first, but Riad then said, 'I am Riad.' And then other men got out of the car that had pulled in front of us and they were carrying AK-47 assault rifles, and they said to Riad, 'Get out of the car,' " Wedeman said in a CNN interview.

He said Ali was forced into the back of the Peugeot, which drove away.

No one was injured in the incident.

Ali has worked for the network for about two years, traveling extensively in Gaza and the West Bank as part of his assignments.

Wedeman described Ali as someone who has worked in Gaza "for several years and has good contacts." Ali had spent the morning Monday trying to set up interviews, Wedeman said.

"He's somebody you can rely on to get a good reading of the local situation -- and certainly not the sort of person you would expect to fall into a situation like this," Wedeman said.

He added, "We have always been able to operate here without too much trouble." Ali, his wife Samia and three children live in a Druze village in northern Israel. Prior to joining CNN, Ali had worked for Israeli Channel One.

The Palestinian Authority as well as the leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and two other Palestinian militant groups -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- had condemned the abduction.


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