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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Free At last

Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout has been freed in Somalia after 15 months in captivity, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan.
In a telephone interview from Mogadishu on Wednesday afternoon, Lindhout told CTV News Channel that she had only been freed for a few hours and provided minimal details on the process that led to her release. Lindhout acknowledged that a ransom was paid to her and Brennan's kidnappers, and that money "was paid by our families."
"I believe they are taking that money and, as far as I understand, they plan on leaving the country," she told News Channel.
"It's a long story. It's been sort of going on for the last couple of weeks, and tonight finally everything came together and the men who had kidnapped us turned us over to the federal government in Somalia. They've now taken us to a hotel and it sounds like tomorrow, we'll be in Nairobi," Lindhout said.
Lindhout, originally from Sylvan Lake, Alta., and Brennan have been missing since August 23, 2008, when they were kidnapped near Mogadishu.
She remembered the day she was kidnapped and described the circumstances to CTV.
"I was going to research a story about some of the IDTs -- the internally-displaced people -- in Somalia and on our way there one morning, our vehicle was ambushed and we were taken by a group of gunmen who then proceeded to take us around the country and keep us in different houses, extremely oppressive conditions, myself and another freelance photographer from Australia (Brennan)," Lindhout said.
She said she knew little about her kidnappers.
"I don't think it was political -- you know 15 months with these men and I don't know very much about them. But I think, from the information that I've gathered, I think that it was criminals -- criminals under the guise of being freedom fighters for Somalia."
Lindhout said she was beaten and tortured while in captivity.
"It was extremely oppressive. 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. I was allowed to use the toilet exactly five times a day," Lindhout said.
"So, basically, my day was sitting on 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 an extremely, extremely difficult situation."
The kidnappers told her that they were beating her because the money "wasn't coming quickly enough."
"They seemed to think that if they beat me enough, then when I was able to speak to my mother - which they would put me on the line with her every couple of months - that I would be able to say the right thing to convince her to pay the ransom for me, which was $1 million.
"Of course, my family didn't have $1 million and it didn't matter what I said to them. But they didn't really understand that. They thought: She's Canadian, everyone in Canada is rich. She must have $1 million."
The phone calls to her mother were "very short and they were usually scripted on my part," Lindhout said.
"My mother wasn't allowed to ask any questions and I also wasn't allowed to say what I wanted to say. They would come to me beforehand with a pen and paper, and sort of guide me and tell me what I needed to say to her. And it was always wonderful to hear my mother's voice but the circumstances that we were talking were not very happy."
She acknowledged that she was forced to call media outlets.
"That was another one of their ideas to get money. They always had in their mind that if my family wasn't going to pay, that the government wasn't going to pay. And of course, the Canadian government does not pay ransom, but they thought that if they kept trying and using the media, that eventually the government would pay my ransom."
Lindhout believes she was held in at least 11 different houses, in Mogadishu and in areas south of the city.
She said that she never felt any sympathy for her captors, and additionally, that it is unlikely that they will be caught.
"Because Somalia is a completely lawless country, really," Lindhout said. "It would be easy for them to disappear into the country and I don't think we ever really the saw the leaders of this, so we would never be able to identify them and I think they'll be able to leave the country, which is what I think they are planning on doing easily."
Through her ordeal, Lindhout said she went through "some pretty dark moments."
"I think human beings have an enormous capacity to adjust to trying circumstances and it was the idea of coming home, a reunion with my family, that kept me going," Lindhout said.
"In that darkness, I would just try to escape in my mind to a sunny place, usually Vancouver -- in my mind -- I would imagine running around Stanley Park and things like that, and that kept me going."
Moving forward, Lindhout hopes to reunite with her family, at which point she plans to "sit down and reevaluate my whole life."
"I just want to take the next couple of months and spend it with my family."
It was only through her family's "tireless efforts," that she is still alive and has been freed from captivity, Lindhout said.