Journalists leave Somalia after hostage ordeal

Two journalists from Canada and Australia flew out of Somalia on Thursday at the end of a 15-month hostage ordeal during which they were tortured and shackled in windowless rooms by their captors.

Amanda Lindhout, her head covered with a black veil, and fellow freelancer Nigel Brennan boarded a private plane at Mogadishu airport after being escorted there by pro-government militia, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear where they were headed.

While the two were kept away from journalists, the Canadian Lindhout earlier told an interviewer how she had been beaten and tortured by her captors and acknowledged a $1-million ransom had been paid to secure their release.

One of Lindhout and Brennan’s kidnappers, who refused to identify himself, confirmed to Agence France-Presse that a ransom of $1-million was paid.

Lindhout told Canadian broadcaster CTV by telephone she spent her captivity “sitting in a corner on the floor 24 hours a day for the last 15 months. There were times that I was beaten, that I was tortured.”

“It was extremely oppressive,” she added. “I was kept by myself at all times. I had no one to speak to. I was normally kept in a room with a light, no window, I had nothing to write on or with. There was very little food.”

The kidnappers told her that they beat her, she said, because the money “wasn’t coming quickly enough.”

The Australian family of Brennan spoke of their “overwhelming” joy after his release.

An emotional Kellie Brennan, the photojournalist’s sister-in-law, fought back tears as she recounted the family’s harrowing emotional journey since his capture.

“It’s very hard to express the overwhelming sense of joy that we have today that we feel as a family at the news of Nigel and Amanda’s release,” she told reporters.

The two were kidnapped by unknown gunmen on August 23 2008 on the road leading from Mogadishu to Afgoye, 25km to the west, where they intended to visit camps for people forced to flee fighting in the capital.

A Somali journalist and two drivers were also taken hostage but freed after 177 days.

According to Somali media, the two journalists had escaped in February and found refuge at a mosque before being recaptured.

This escape attempt led to their being held separately and to their captors meting out harsher treatment.

In May, the pair provided proof they were still alive by calling media outlets.

Brennan (38) told Agence France-Presse at the time that he was in fading health and had been in chains for months, and begged his government for help.

While the kidnapping of foreigners is rampant in Somalia, a Horn of Africa country ravaged by cycles of devastating violence and lawlessness since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Lindhout and Brennan’s ordeal was one of the longest.

The two journalists have faced accusations that they were naive in underestimating the dangers in the region.

The Canadian weekly newsmagazine MacLean’s said Lindhout had had no formal training as a reporter when she travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to find work as a war correspondent.

She worked for Press TV in Baghdad, where she was once briefly detained in the violent Sadr City neighborhood—an incident that left her with a scar.

On the eve of her abduction, she wrote in an email to a friend: “I’m in Somalia trying to get a story ... It’s really dangerous. It looks like it’s just warlords and insurgents and a lawless country.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed their release.

“We are relieved that Amanda and Nigel are now free and that their ordeal has come to an end,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon.

Lindhout and Brennan were taken to a hotel in Mogadishu on Wednesday night pending their departure on Thursday. A hotel employee said the pair were “very tired” following their ordeal.—AFP



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