A Somalian video journalist fears for his safety after trying on his own to negotiate the freedom of Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan from armed kidnappers.
Ahmed Muhammed (his last name withheld for security reasons) risked his life and that of his family’s for establishing contact with the kidnappers and arranging the first “proof of life” call between Brennan and hostage negotiators in Nairobi.
After 15 months of captivity at the hands of Somalian gunmen, Lindhout formerly of Sylvan Lake is returning to Canada this week.
Lindhout, 28, and Brennan, 38, of Australia had been hospitalized for several days in Nairobi, Kenya following their confirmed Nov. 25 release into the hands of Somalian government officials. The freelance journalists were freed after their families paid a huge ransom and hired a British security firm to get them safely out of the war-torn country.
Lindhout’s former colleagues, Chris Gelken of China Radio International and Eva Manasieva of Iranian-based Press TV, say Ahmed deserves special praise, hailing him as the “true hero in this story.”
Reached from the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, Ahmed said he never met Lindhout but wanted to do whatever he could.
Shortly after the abduction, Ahmed made substantive contact with the kidnappers and was able to begin passing messages from the group.
“I did get one witness who recognized one of the kidnappers and I begged him, ‘please I need their phone contacts,’” Ahmed told the Advocate Monday.
He also passed information onto Canadian and Australian authorities, known as “Mike” and “Gary”, who had arrived in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ahmed became dismayed when they told him they “didn’t have any authority from our governments to deal with kidnappers anymore and we’re going to go back to Australia and Canada.”
“These were my painful days when they told me that,” Ahmed said. “I asked, ‘why didn’t you get more authority?’”
He would later establish, for the first time, direct communication between the negotiating teams and the kidnappers.
Meanwhile, the gunmen demanded payment from Ahmed so he could get brief updates.
“They looted the little money that I had,” he said.
They regularly threatened to kill the 33-year-old married man and his family. He was questioned at gunpoint. He still maintained strength against the gunmen.
“I said, ‘Amanda is a female and don’t forget about humanity,’” Ahmed said.
The negotiating teams from Canada and Australia wanted Ahmed to maintain contact, since he was the only reliable link on the ground in Mogadishu. After many months, negotiators in Nairobi were able to manage affairs without Ahmed’s direct involvement.
“It was the happiest night of my life when between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Mogadishu time, when Amanda set foot in a Mogadishu hotel,” said Ahmed. “I really did forget all the painful days I was in.”
Ahmed continues to fear for his and his family’s safety. He, his pregnant wife and their five children move to different locations.
Bob Mills, Red Deer MP at the time of Lindhout’s abduction on Aug. 23 2008, said he is “pretty happy” with what the Conservative government did to try and free Lindhout. He added some information must be kept confidential because it could be used for other kidnappings of Canadians.
“You can’t tell everything,” Mills said on Monday.