American photographer kidnapped in Iraq is released

Wednesday, October 13th 2004, 6:22 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ An American freelance photographer kidnapped in Baghdad was released Tuesday, his photo agency said.

Paul Taggart, of Tulsa, Okla., sounded ``remarkably relaxed, tremendously relieved,'' said Stephen Claypole, chief executive officer of the New York-based World Picture News agency.

Taggart was on his way to Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood on Sunday for a 10-day photo shoot about its Shiite Muslim residents when he was kidnapped from his car by four masked gunmen, Claypole said. Taggart, 24, had been in the country since July.

Claypole said Taggart told him that he had been treated well but that he had been moved frequently, including three times the first night of his captivity. Taggart was expected to return to the United States this week.

Taggart's parents, Davis and Deborah Taggart of Tulsa spoke to their son by telephone. He said he was unharmed, but could not go into many details about his ordeal.

``All we wanted to hear was that he is alive and well,'' his mother told the Tulsa World. ``He sounded good. We're just so happy that it's over.''

In Baghdad, Ali Smeisem, a senior aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has a broad following in the Shiite slum in northwest Baghdad, told The Associated Press that Taggart was kidnapped by an independent Shiite group that believed he was a spy. Smeisem said al-Sadr pressured the group to free the photographer.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, many of them subsequently killed, often beheaded.

The Taggarts were notified of their son's the kidnapping Sunday and had been ``holding our breath for three days,'' Deborah Taggart said.

Deborah Taggart said she didn't know what the kidnappers were demanding for her son's return.

``He wasn't free to talk about it,'' she said. ``We didn't push. We were just glad to hear his voice.''

Deborah Taggart said her son lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and often returns to Oklahoma to teach film making at the Oklahoma Arts Institute.

``But I'm sure it won't be long before he's back behind a camera. That's the way he is. I know he's not going to like leaving his work behind.''

Taggart recently made a documentary movie about the United States' penal system.