Reporter had Chance Meeting with Nick Berg

A reporter for the St. Petersburg Times had a chance 45min meeting with Nick Burg just 2 days before he was kidnapped.

This is another odd shaped piece in the bizarre puzzle of Nick Berg. We don’t learn an incredible amount but it does shatter one theory.

The theory was that Nick was held by Iraqi (US?) forces while the violence in Iraq escalated and he did not know how bad it was. However, 2 days before the kidnapping, Berg told the reporter he was not working because of the violence.

If you have been following the weird tale of Nick berg, this is a must read from the St. Petersburg Times.

A jolting awareness that I crossed paths with Nick Berg

On a warm evening in Baghdad’s old Jewish quarter last month, I was taking photos in a crumbling building when I was literally pushed toward a Westerner with ivory skin and a red beard. He was lifting weights inside the Arnold Classic Gym. He wore black steel-toed boots as he grunted out exercises beneath dozens of portraits of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Iraqis called him Mr. Nick.

I was amazed to meet another English speaker inside the local gym, but I was there to photograph Iraqis and had little interest in being sidetracked with small talk. But soon, I found myself in a casual conversation with an engaging young man, whose intelligence and friendly nature allowed him to move easily in and out of a strange culture.

Now, more than five weeks after the chance meeting, I have learned that Mr. Nick was actually Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old Pennsylvania man who was beheaded by a group of hooded men in Iraq. The grisly murder was videotaped, and it’s now thought that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate of Osama bin Laden, carried out the execution. …

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We were together for maybe 45 minutes or an hour and exchanged a few personal details. He made his way around the circuit of dinged weights, doing arm curls, squats, military presses, pull ups. He was curious about my digital cameras and the places I have traveled for the Times.

Mr. Nick told me he was a contractor. I didn’t push; I waited for him to say more. In today’s Iraq a pleasant conversation can spoil quickly with aggressive questioning, since everyone is defensive about security.

We both expressed a level of comfort about Iraq, even as conditions spiraled out of control all around us. Just a few days earlier four American contractors had been killed, dismembered and burned in Fallujah. Each hour seemed to bring new tension. Gunfire and explosions had become background noise.

Berg didn’t mention being held in custody from March 24 until April 6. According to news reports, he was jailed in Mosul because his activities aroused suspicion. And if the reports are correct, our meeting came only one day after his release and two days before his kidnapping.

He said he was not working because conditions were too violent, but yet he had taken to traveling the country by local taxi – highly unusual for most foreigners. (Susan and I were doing the same thing as we filed stories and pictures to the Times.)

Mr. Nick described trips to Mosul and Kirkuk, riding in the ubiquitous orange and white taxis with car loads full of Iraqis. But he said nothing of where he might go next.

CNN actually called the reporter and asked him what he knew about Berg. The at first said he had never met him. Then he remembered… Go read it, it is a fascinating story.

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  1. hi May 16, 2004
  2. Jim May 16, 2004