Hostage recounts ‘five minutes of shock’
TORONTO — The kidnapping of four aid workers in Kenya began with minutes of terror as gunmen pounced on the group in a well-planned mission driven by money rather than ideology, one of the rescued hostages said Wednesday.
In one of her first interviews since her ordeal, Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, of Gatineau, Que., said it quickly became apparent the group had been targeted for abduction.
“They came with guns. They started rounding up people, pushed one into our car, and they got in the car,” Sadazai told The Canadian Press from Nairobi.
“It was five minutes of shock.”
Sadazai, 38, was snatched at gunpoint along with fellow Canadian Steve Dennis, 37, of Toronto, and two colleagues last Friday from the huge Dadaab refugee camp inside Kenya near the Somalia border.
The group’s driver was shot and pulled from the car and it was only later she found out he’d been killed. Once the initial fright passed, Sadazai said she was able to size up the situation and, because kidnappings “happen for a reason,” she no longer feared for her life.
“We are OK, we are alive and now we can take it from here,” she said she thought.
Their captors drove them away, then made them get out and start walking by night — about 70 or 80 kilometres in Somalia.
Sadazai said her crisis training helped her get through the ensuing three-day ordeal in which one of her captors was also killed.
“Mentally, you are in some ways prepared,” she said.
“As aid workers, we do know that there is a risk always and we are in areas that are high risk — this is something that happens and you have to work with it.”
She did expect it might be weeks, or months, before the situation would be resolved. Two abducted Spanish aid workers, for example, have been missing for eight months.
The kidnappers didn’t say what their plan was as they meandered toward the Somali border, crossing late Sunday, but she said they were likely motivated by money.
“We were not clear on their objectives,” Sadazai said. “(But it had) very little to do with ideology or issues of fundamentalism or Islam.”
The captors, who hid the four by day, treated their captives well, feeding them sachets of humanitarian supplements given to children and making sure they had enough water.
The captives had no idea where they were ultimately headed but trackers, aided in part by Dennis’s large shoe prints, tailed them to a spot about 40 kilometres inside Somalia.
The rescue, when it came as the group sat and rested early Monday morning after yet another night of walking, was just as sudden as the initial kidnapping. Gunfire erupted.
“We didn’t know what was happening. We just ducked and were lying on the floor,” Sadazai said.
“We’re the Kenyan authorities — we’re here to rescue you,” she cited the soldiers as saying.
The captors fled — one was shot dead — and the group was bundled into a car and driven back to the Kenyan border.
Sadazai, who is married, said she plans to take 10 days to visit her parents in Pakistan before returning to continue her work with the Norwegian Refugee Council at the Dadaab camp, home to about 460,000 refugees.
“It hasn’t changed any of my plans,” she said of the kidnapping. “I’m still committed.”
Also kidnapped and rescued were Norwegian Astrid Sehl, 33, and Glenn Costes, 40, a Filipino, who was shot and injured during the initial kidnapping.
Dennis was grazed by a bullet that hit the wallet in his pocket, leaving little more than a bruise.