AP reporter Terry Anderson held captive for years dies at 76

By , K24 Digital
On Mon, 22 Apr, 2024 13:25 | 3 mins read
Terry Anderson is shown at a news conference in the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus, after his release on December 4, 1991. PHOTO/AP

Terry Anderson, a US journalist who was held captive by Islamist militants for almost seven years in Lebanon and came to symbolise the plight of Western hostages during the country’s 1975-90 civil war, has died aged 76, his daughter said.

The former chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, who was the longest-held hostage of the scores of Westerners abducted in Lebanon, died on Sunday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said Sulome Anderson, who was born three months after her father was seized. No cause of death was given.

Kept in barely lit cells by mostly Shia Muslim groups in what was known as the hostage crisis, and chained by his hands and feet and blindfolded much of the time, the former marine later recalled that he “almost went insane” and that only his Catholic faith prevented him from killing himself before he was freed in December 1991.

“Though my father’s life was marked by extreme suffering during his time as a hostage in captivity, he found a quiet, comfortable peace in recent years. I know he would choose to be remembered not by his very worst experience, but through his humanitarian work with the Vietnam Children’s Fund, the Committee to Protect Journalists, homeless veterans and many other incredible causes,” Anderson said.

The family would take some time to organise a memorial, she said.

Anderson‘s ordeal began in Beirut on the morning of 16 March 1985, after he played a game of tennis. A green Mercedes sedan with curtains over the rear window pulled up, three gunmen jumped out and dragged Anderson into the car.

The pro-Iran Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying it was part of “continuing operations against Americans”. The abductors demanded freedom for Shia Muslims jailed in Kuwait for bomb attacks against the US and French embassies there.

Anderson’s captivity lasted six years and nine months, during which he was kept in cells under the rubble-strewn streets of Beirut and elsewhere, often poorly fed and sleeping on a thin, dirty mattress on a concrete floor. His father and brother died of cancer during this time and he did not see his daughter until she was six years old.

Shortly after his release, he said: “What kept me going? My companions. I was lucky to have people with me most of the time. My faith, stubbornness. You do what you have to. You wake up every day, summon up the energy from somewhere. You think you haven’t got it and you get through the day and you do it. Day after day after day.”

Other hostages described Anderson as tough and active in captivity, learning French and Arabic and exercising regularly.

However, they also told of him banging his head against a wall until he bled in frustration at beatings, isolation, false hopes and the feeling of being neglected by the outside world.

“There is a limit of how long we can last and some of us are approaching the limit very badly,” Anderson said in a videotape released by his captors in December 1987.

Marcel Fontaine, a French diplomat who was released in May 1988 after three years of captivity, recalled the time Anderson, his cellmate, thought freedom was near because he was allowed to see the sun and eat a hamburger.

In April 1987, Anderson was given a suit of clothes that his captors had made for him. “He wore it every day,” Fontaine said. A week later, however, Anderson’s captors took the suit back, leaving him in despair and certain he was forgotten, Fontaine said.

His sister, Peggy Say, who died in 2015, was his fiercest advocate during captivity. She visited Arab and European capitals, lobbied the Pope, the archbishop of Canterbury and every US official and politician available.

Under pressure from the media and the US hostages’ families, the Reagan administration negotiated a secret and illegal deal in the mid-1980s to facilitate arms sales to Iran in return for the release of American hostages. But the deal, known as the Iran-Contra affair, failed to gain freedom for any of the hostages.

After his release, Anderson taught journalism at Columbia University in New York, Ohio University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Florida until he retired in 2015.

Among businesses he invested in were a horse ranch in Ohio, and a restaurant. He unsuccessfully ran for the Ohio state senate as a Democrat in 2004 and sued Iran in federal court for his abduction, winning a multimillion-dollar settlement in 2002.

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