Terry Anderson: US journalist held hostage for nearly seven years in Lebanon dies at 76

Former chief Middle East correspondent came to symbolise the plight of western hostages during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war

Terry Anderson, a US journalist who was held captive by Islamist militants for almost seven years in Lebanon, died on Sunday at age 76, his daughter said in a statement.

The former chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, who was the longest held hostage of the scores of westerners abducted in Lebanon, came to symbolise the plight of western hostages during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

He died at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter Sulome Anderson, who was born three months after he 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 Roman Catholic faith prevented him from taking his life 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,” Ms Anderson said.

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

He is survived by his daughters Sulome and Gabrielle, and by Bassil, whom Sulome Anderson called “his ex-wife and best friend”.

Mr Anderson’s ordeal began in Beirut on the morning of March 16th, 1985, after he played a round of tennis. A green Mercedes sedan with curtains over the rear window pulled up, three gunmen jumped out and dragged Mr Anderson, still dressed in shorts, 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.

Mr Anderson would be held for six years and nine months during which time he was stuck in cells under the rubble-strewn streets of Beirut and elsewhere, often badly fed and sleeping on a thin, dirty mattress on a concrete floor.

During captivity, both his father and brother would die of cancer and he would not see his daughter Sulome until she was six years old.

“What kept me going?” he asked aloud shortly after release. “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 Mr 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,” Mr Anderson said in a videotape released by his captors in December 1987.

Scores of journalist groups, governments and individuals over the years called for Mr Anderson’s release and his October 27th birthday became an unofficial US memorial day for hostages.

Mr Anderson said he considered killing himself several times but rejected it. He relied heavily on his faith, which he said he had renewed six months before being kidnapped. “I must have read the Bible 50 times from start to finish,” he said. “It was an enormous help to me.”

Anderson and fellow hostages developed a system of communication by tapping on walls between their cells. Mr Anderson passed on news of the outside world he had picked up during captivity to Church of England envoy Terry Waite, being held hostage in an adjacent room in September 1990 after years of solitary confinement.

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, Mr 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. – Reuters