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Last updated: 25 January, 2007 - Published 14:45 GMT
 
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Lebanon hostages released
 
Terry Waite after his release
Waite heard a BBC programme about himself whilst in captivity
In the 1980s, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was arguably the most dangerous city in the world.

As civil war engulfed the country, Westerners were at constant risk of being kidnapped and held hostage.

Among them were a Belfast-born lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Brian Keenan, and a television journalist John McCarthy.

Both were captured by the militant Islamic Jihad group called Islamic Dawn in April 1986.

Solitary confinement

In the efforts to negotiate the release of these and other hostages, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy Terry Waite went to Beirut. In February 1987, he too was taken.

At first nobody knew where Waite had gone, and there were fears he had been killed. A group of journalists was even taken to a spot where they were told he had been buried.

In fact Waite was being held in solitary confinement in Beirut, tortured and even made to undergo a mock execution.

For four of the five years he was held, he was kept in solitary confinement, often blindfolded and chained to a radiator.

Radio through the wall

Eventually he realised he was being kept in the same building as other hostages.

Using a primitive form of code he found out that his neighbours included John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, who had also undergone torture and other forms of harsh treatment.

Terry Waite takes up the story: "I was in solitary confinement and I used to communicate with hostages in the cell next door by tapping on the wall in code," Waite said.

"You can't use Morse code on a wall because you can't differentiate between a dot and a dash, but you can use the laborious code of one for A, two for B, three for C.

John Waite
John Waite, Terry Waite’s cousin, was and a World Service presenter
"It was then that I regretted my name was Terry Waite, because it's a long way down the alphabet when you want to communicate your name.

"However, I communicated with them, they had a radio and for about nine months I depended on the news being tapped through the wall. In the last six months my captors relented and I was given a small radio.

"I listened to the BBC World Service constantly and I was enormously grateful, particularly for the fact that at the time they were broadcasting virtually 24 hours-a-day to the Middle East.

"I heard my cousin John broadcasting on Outlook and that meant a great deal to me because John, in a subtle way, got me news from my family.

"He also broadcast on my birthday and played a piece of Bach's organ music for me as a gift from the family.

"It was a great source of hope and comfort to me, that something was getting through to me from my family."

Messages from Meridian

The messages from the other room included cricket scores tapped out by John McCarthy. He remembers how he listened to cricket commentaries on the World Service: “The sound of bat on ball from thousands of miles away was very, very haunting."

John Waite, Terry Waite’s cousin and a World Service presenter, recalls how his family’s ordeal ended: "There was a new play opening in London about the hostage situation and the World Service arts programme Meridian asked if I would go along to see this play," says John Waite.

"We did the recording - I made my comments and the programme was broadcast.

"When a couple of days later I was speaking to Terry he said he had been listening to that review - to my voice - of this play on the World Service as the cell door opened and his guard said: 'Get your clothes and shoes on, you're leaving.'"

"The very last thing he heard was a programme about himself."

Another hostage released with Terry Waite was an American academic Tom Sutherland, who was captured in 1985.

He too paid tribute to the World Service: "I have to admit," he said, "the BBC has everybody beaten hands down."

 
 
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