Journalists freed after 15 months as hostages
(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 26 November 2009 - Somali gunmen have released two foreign freelance journalists who were taken hostage in Mogadishu over fifteen months ago.
Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan and Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout were kidnapped outside Mogadishu by unknown gunmen when they were traveling to research a story on the internally-displaced refugees in Somalia, Lindhout confirmed to Canadian TV. She had arrived three days earlier to report for French TV channel France 24, CBC News reported.
The kidnapping was met with an international outcry, but efforts to gain the pair's release were not successful until yesterday evening. The two were handed over to four members of Somalia's Transitional Federal Parliament at a checkpoint in the Afgoye District, according to the Mogadishu-based National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). This morning, they were escorted to neighbouring Kenya by government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers.
Lindhout told CTV: "My day was sitting on a corner on the floor in a room 24 hours a day for the last 15 months. She added: "There were times that I was beaten, that I was tortured. It was an extremely, extremely difficult situation."
Brennan told Reuters that he had been pistol whipped and chained since the two attempted to escape 10 months ago.
"We welcome the release of Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan, and our thoughts are with the journalists and their families as they are reunited after so many months of uncertainty and suffering," said IPI Director David Dadge. "Despite this happy outcome, we must remember that Somalia continues to be a deadly place for journalists both foreign and local, where the media struggle daily with the unacceptable threat of lethal violence.
"We are very happy this ordeal ended peacefully," said NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman in a statement Emailed to IPI. "We are sharing our joy and relief over the release with the family and colleagues of the journalists."
In September 2008, Al-Jazeera aired video of the two along with their purported captors, the "Mujahideen of Somalia," which it said showed the pair pleading with their governments to negotiate their release. Since then, Lindhout was allowed periodic scripted phone calls with her mother and the media in hopes of convincing the Canadian government to hand over ransom money, reports said.
A ransom of $700,000 was paid for their release, according to Al-Jazeera sources, although the news outlet also reported rumors that up to $1million may have exchanged hands.
Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, a Somali journalist who was working as an interpreter for Brennan and Lindhout, was kidnapped with the journalists but freed in January this year.
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