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Missing American Contractor Found Alive, in Good Health

Aired May 2, 2004 - 09:00   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. This is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Thanks for staying with us. I'm Renay San Miguel.

If you are just waking up on the West Coast or just tuning in; good news out of Iraq this morning for a Mississippi family. Here's what we've got coming up. We'll stay on that story, that breaking news from Iraq as American hostage Thomas Hamill is found live and well.

Just at the top there you heard from his wife. We'll bring you the latest from Baghdad.

SAN MIGUEL: Also we see the images and hear the reports from Iraq every day, but does the Arab world see and hear the same things? We'll take a look at the perception and perspective from their point of view.

HILL: And you've got mail, but don't believe everything you read. The tales making their way to your inbox, a bit later in the show.

But first, here's what's happening at this hour.

SAN MIGUEL: A missing American contractor is free in Iraq after apparently escaping from his captors. After nearly a month, Thomas Hamill is now in coalition custody.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Today at 1020 hours, Mr. Tommy Hamill, an employee of Kellogg, Brown & Root, was recovered by U.S. forces south of Tikrit. He is in good health. He was reported missing after his convoy was ambushed on 9 April.


SAN MIGUEL: Brigadier General Kimmitt, there, making the announcement.

Two American soldiers were killed when their convoy was attacked by Iraqi militants near Amara (ph) in southern Iraq. Coalition officials say two more American soldiers were killed in an attack in northwestern Baghdad this morning.

In Gaza today, an Israeli woman and her four children were killed in an attack. Israeli soldiers killed the two gunmen. This attack came on a road near a block of Jewish settlements.

In Israel, a referendum is under way within the Likud Party on the prime minister's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon has staked his political fortunes on this vote. He warmed if the referendum is defeated his government could collapse and force new elections.

HILL: In Iraq, U.S. hostage Thomas Hamill is a free man today. The American contractor turned up nearly a month after he was captured near Baghdad. Hamill had been missing since an April 9 ambush of his convoy. U.S. troops found Hamill near Tikrit, that is about 90 miles north of where the ambush happened. Hamill's wife and family back at home in Macon, Mississippi, are obviously overjoyed.


KELLIE HAMILL, WIFE OF THOMAS HAMILL: I feel great. I can't help it. I have to go pray. I am so thankful. I feel wonderful. It's the best feeling I've had. I am so ecstatic and I just want to thank everybody that has prayed and sent their prayers to us.

Thank you all so very much. I've talked to the company. That's what I'm trying to do is keep the lines open so I can talk to him.


SAN MIGUEL: The U.S. military says that Hamill appears to be in good health. For more details on this late breaking news go live to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad -- Ben.


This was an announcement nobody was expecting and certainly for the coalition, a bit of good news after a month of largely bad news. That announcement made by Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt earlier, and he described part of how they found out he was free.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: He came out of a building, identified himself to American soldiers. It looked like it was an escape. This is the preliminary report that we have. It would indicate that he escaped from the building when he saw the American forces, identified himself, and was subsequently recovered.


WEDEMAN: Now, of course, this news is spreading far and wide within the coalition to ordinary Iraqis, they have much larger concerns, given the situation in the country at the moment.

Now certainly there are still others being held hostage, including Private Keith Maupin, who was one of the soldiers who was accompanying the same convoy that Mr. Hamill was in when it was attacked on the 9th of April. At this point, according to our numbers, there are still six people, including Private Maupin, who are being held around the country by various unknown groups of kidnappers. In addition to that, six hostages so far within the last month have been killed, but somewhere between 42 and 44 have been already released.

Now Mr. Hamill is being questioned by the coalition. They clearly want to get as much information as possible about how he was kidnapped and who his captors are -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Ben Wedeman reporting live from Baghdad, thank you so much.

As you can imagine the family of Thomas Hamill back in Macon, Mississippi, a family that is steeped in its faith, is -- believes that its prayers indeed have been answered this morning.

Earlier this morning we were able to talk with Vera Hamill, Thomas Hamill's grandmother. Here's what she had to say.


VERA HAMILL, THOMAS HAMILL'S GRANDMOTHER: I was in bed and my daughter called me and told me that Kellie, his wife, had gotten news. And she called her. And then she said to call me. And my daughter called me.

I got up, praising the Lord, and I looked on TV. I called my other daughter, Katherine, that's in Columbus, Mississippi, and she says, it's on TV. Just look on TV.


HILL: What an incredible way to wake up. Again, that was Vera Hamill, Thomas Hamill's grandmother, who joined us a bit earlier on the phone.

We turn now to Ken Robinson, CNN's national security analyst, also joining us by phone.

Good to have you with us.


HILL: You have a long military career, so that's obviously why we have you here. Talking a little bit about the security issues. We spoke a bit earlier this morning about how the kidnappings and the ambushes that we saw early in the month of April, including this one on April 9, when Thomas Hamill's convoy was attacked just outside Baghdad. How does this change the way security is done. How the coalition forces need to deal with it for their own security and also for the security of contractors in Iraq.

Talk us through that a little bit again f you could, please, about how this effects security. ROBINSON: Well, the coalition provisional authority has one objective in what they call Phase IV. This phase of bringing Iraq back on its feet, getting Iraqi governance. As part of that they need to have infrastructure up and running. They need schools working. They need water, they need electricity, power, and need that for the local populations.

In order to do that they have to have the ability to have lines of communication open, and when the military says the words lines of communication, they're talking about roads. They are talking about the ability to go from point A to point B in a free way without being attacked. And what the insurgents started doing in a very aggressive heavy way was attacking those lines of communications, those sources of supplies, preventing both the coalition from being able to reinforce and resupply itself and to resupply infrastructure that was trying to be rebuilt.

And by doing that, it slowed down and they caused more and more soldiers to be required to defend convoys that were -- would have been used the other civil affairs activities. So their strategy, the strategy of the insurgency, and there are multiple levels of that, there are multiple insurgents out there from different groups, whether they be former Ba'athists or whether they be Jihadists, who have come across the border from Saudi Arabia, Syria or Iran.

Their objectives have been to defeat the strategy of the coalition and in the race toward the handoff of governance and they're being very successful at slowing things down.

HILL: You mentioned that there are several different insurgents here, several given groups. We don't know exactly yet just who the group or even possibly groups may have been. The captors that took Thomas Hamill during this ambush earlier in April. But you would be, perhaps, familiar with some of the questions he is being asked at this point, as he speaks with coalition forces, as he tells them about his experience.

What are some of the things they want to know in addition to who the captors were and where he was?

ROBINSON: One of the challenges that they'll be with debriefing Tom Hamill is he may or may not have the same sense of awareness that a soldier, who is trained to be taken captive, might have, but they're going to want to try to have a sense of who specifically -- which faction or which group was controlling him.

We were doing some debriefings earlier this month with other contractors who had been release released who -- and journalists -- who had told the story of being handed off from car to car, from checkpoint to checkpoint, and their assessment was that language dialects changed and groups changed. And that it seemed like a very loose confederation of folks who had been holding them.

So they may be wanting to confirm whether that's the same here, whether these groups have merged together and are cooperating with each other or what -- whether it is one specific local group who is trying to do the kidnappings.

HILL: That is some important information, indeed, as there are still folks missing, among them troops and civilian contractors.

Ken Robinson, we appreciate your time, as always.


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