One year later, kidnapped journalists' whereabouts unknown

Western freelance journalists Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan went to Somalia to report on unrest. Three days later, one year ago on Sunday, they were abducted by unknown assailants.

Lindhout, a 28-year-old Canadian reporter, and 38-year-old Australian photographer Brennan were captured on August 23 2008 en route from Mogadishu to visit a refugee camp in Afgooye, a town just outside the capital.

A Somali journalist and two drivers were also taken hostage but were freed after 177 days in captivity. They were unable to identify their captors or motives for the kidnappings.

In September 2008, a local tribal chief participated in negotiations to try to free the pair and confirmed the kidnappers wanted $2,5-million in ransom.
In January, the amount was reduced to $100 000.

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

So far, the only proof either are still alive were a series of telephone calls at the end of May to media outlets, including to an Agence France-Presse correspondent.

“I have been sick for months. Unless my government, the people of Canada, all my family and friends can get one million dollars, I will die here, OK, that is certain,” Lindhout said, sounding very distressed.

“The situation here is very dire and very serious. I’ve been a hostage for nine months, the conditions are very bad, I don’t drink clean water, I am fed at most once a day,” she said.

“I’m being kept ... in a dark windowless room, completely alone.” Brennan made similar calls to Australian media.

Some Somali reports said the tall, blue-eyed brunette from the western Canadian province of Alberta had been raped by one of her captors, and was forcibly wed and pregnant with his baby.

Lindhout said she was unable to take questions when pressed for information during a call to Agence France-Presse.

Since then, no new information has emerged.

Last month, Brennan’s mother Heather confronted Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a public visit to the Queensland town of Bundaberg, where the family lives.

Rudd later told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that negotiations were “hard, difficult, complex and sensitive”.

In Ottawa, officials said they have kept strict silence in order to not put the lives of the pair in danger.

While some observers regularly accuse Ottawa of inaction on the file, others say the two journalists had been naive in underestimating the dangers in the region.

Canada’s MacLean’s magazine noted Lindhout, a former beer model, had no formal training as a reporter when she travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to find work as a war correspondent.

She had some success, but was once briefly detained in Baghdad’s violent Sadr City neighbourhood, which left her with a scar.

On the eve of her abduction in Somalia, 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.” - AFP

Clement Sabourin

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