BAGHDAD — The 41 hostages freed from an Al Qaeda in Iraq prison this week said they were targeted because their captors hoped they could each fetch a $40,000 ransom, or because they worked for the Iraqi government or merely because they were found smoking on the street.
Many of the prisoners said they had been moved from one detention site to the next over the course of their captivity, suggesting that insurgents may still be holding significant numbers of captives in Diyala province, one of the country's most dangerous regions.
These and other details emerged Tuesday at a video news conference with U.S. Army Lt. Col. Morris Goins, the commanding officer who oversaw the rescue operation.
The youngest among those Sunday, a 13-year-old boy, said he had been seized merely because Al Qaeda operatives had spotted him smoking on the street and decided it was an affront to Islam, Goins said.
Almost all of the hostages said they had been given two options -- carry out militant acts for their captors or be killed -- and that some prisoners had been executed, Goins said.
He said they spent most of their days outdoors confined to mats and were fed little more than dates and water.
The raid on the prison, and another detention facility nearby, resulted from tips to American and Iraqi security forces by local residents, Goins said.
"We do have future operations planned, and that's about as far as I'm willing to go," he said.