Jill Carroll and Natasha TynesWe have received word that Jill has been released. The Italian News Agency, ANSA (in Italian), which Jill used to work for, is reporting that Jill was released about one hour ago (here "roughly" translated from the Italian), that’s around 5:00 am EST. The news is now percolating down into the news agencies. We are making contacts and verifying this information. More updates will come as we know them.

UPDATE: We now have confirmation of this release from the Christian Science Monitor team. We are both still stunned by this tremendous news. All the prayers and good wishes have been answered. We are simply overwhelmed by this amazing, fantastic, tremendously wonderful news!!

UPDATE 2: The US Embassy in Baghdad has been unable to confirm her release but the CSM is reporting that she has talked to her family, confirming her release: "She was released this morning, she’s talked to her father and she’s fine," said David Cook, Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor.

UPDATE 3: The US military cannot confirm that Jill is inside Baghdad’s noted "Green zone," the protected inner sanctum, or at least they are hesitant to say anything until they can confirm she is safe and protected. It is notable that she is reported to have been "released" but not "rescued," meaning a group — the group — decided to release her. Was it Katie’s statement? Who knows, but the timing seems to suggest as much. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing off the hook with interview requests. Everyone is just overwhelmed as we do our best to get our head around all of this. To all of you calling us, we’d really like for the family to be given a chance to digest this and to make an official statement. As for us, we are absolutely overwhelmed, ecstatic … over the moon with joy!

UPDATE 4: Word is now that Jill is inside the Green Zone and is being given a health checkup. Jill has apparently made a statement saying she was unsure why she was abducted but that she was treated well by her captors. The State Department is now weighing in, confirming her release, with a spokesperson saying: "I can confirm her release. This is great news…we are very pleased." Jill was handed over to the Iraqi Islamic Party office in Amiriya, western Baghdad, by an unknown group, "She is healthy and we handed her over to the Americans," Nasir al-Ani, a party member, told The Associated Press. Shout it from the rooftops: Jill is FREE!!

UPDATE 5: Jill’s father appeared on NBC News and made a statement: "We are thrilled and relieved at the safe return of my daughter," he said on the "Today" show. "We want to thank the thousands of people that prayed and especially the people at The Christian Science Monitor who did so much to keep her alive." You’ll have to excuse us, but we’re going to take a breather now, our hearts are about to explode!

UPDATE 6: Jill spoke briefly to Baghdad television, apparently operated by the Iraqi Islamic Party, after her health checkup. During the interview, she said: "I’m just happy to be free. I want to be with my family … I felt I was not free. It was difficult because I didn’t know what would happen to me." She said she had been kept in a furnished room with a window and a shower, but she had no idea where she was. She also said she was allowed to watch TV and read a newspaper, once each.

She appeared very strong and pointed out that she was not harmed, telling the Associated Press that her captors "never hit me and never even threatened to hit me." Jill had no idea why they let her go though, saying: "They just came to me and said we’re going. They didn’t tell me what was going on." Dr. Tariq Al-hashmi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, said he had helped get Jill released, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

UPDATE 7: Jill’s family has released a wonderful statement following Jill’s release:

Jill speaks to the media after her releaseOur hearts are full. We are elated by Jill’s safe release. We would like to thank all of the generous people around the world who worked officially or unofficially, especially those who took personal risks, to gain Jill’s release. We are also very grateful for the support of the Iraqi people, who have shown the world a deep compassion for Jill’s situation, and members of the press in Baghdad.

Finally, we cannot say enough about the outstanding staff at The Christian Science Monitor, who provided us information and emotional support from the very start of this harrowing experience.

Our priority now, of course, is helping Jill to recover from her ordeal. We ask that the media respect our privacy and desire to focus on Jill’s well-being. When we feel the time is appropriate, we will release more details about her experience. Finally, our thoughts are with the families of others still being held hostage in Iraq, and we hope that their loved ones will soon return safely to them.

~ Katie, Jim, Mary Beth — and Jill — Carroll

UPDATE 8: The CSM has also issued a statement, saying: "Uncountable have been the cumulative prayers and pleas, the messages of support and tears of concern shed for Jill Carroll over the past three months. Today, we cry tears of joy for her release." They also make the very important point that Jill’s release should not be an end, but rather a means towards the release of all the others held against their will. "Anyone who is being held captive, out of any willful passion or purpose, should be freed. Those who kidnapped before and after Jill must have their freedom, too. In fact, even kidnappers themselves deserve freedom from a kind of imprisonment their lives represent." See here for more.

UPDATE 9: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made a statement while in Germany regarding Jill’s release, telling reporters that it was with "great delight and great relief of the United States, the people of the United States and, I’m sure, the people of the world at the release today of Jill Carroll … This is something that people have across the world worked for and prayed for and I think we are all very pleased and happy to hear of her release." And the Italian News Agency ANSA, who were the first we heard of to break the good news in print, has invited Jill to stop by. Jill worked for ANSA as a freelancer for a good while when she was in Iraq. It’s nice to see them give her such a warm reception. "You deserve to see Rome now, stupendous with the colours of spring. We look forward to seeing you here," said ANSA editor-in-chief Pierluigi Magnaschi.

UPDATE 10: It looks like a world of folks are weighing in on her release. Even President Bush got in on things saying: "I’m really grateful she was released and thank those who worked hard for her release, and we’re glad she’s alive." There’s a full accounting of all the reactions on CNN.

UPDATE 11: A little bit more about Jill’s release has trickled in and more is sure to be known in due time. In her taped interview she said: "They just came to me this morning and told me they will release me." Apparently she was dropped off, perhaps by her abductors, near the Iraqi Islamic Party offices in Baghdad, where she walked in and identified herself as "Jill Carroll." She then gave them a note written in Arabic that apparently asked the group to help. It then appears that she was moved into the party’s main compound where she made a few phone calls to the embassy and to her family before she was interviewed by the group for Baghdad TV and a strange "ceremony" took place. What is not clear is whether Jill felt that she was free at this point, being put yet again in front of a camera by strangers rather than given a doctor or taken to her friends.