NAIROBI, Kenya — Freed after 15 tortuous months in captivity in Somalia, Canadian freelancer Amanda Lindhout and another foreign journalist arrived Thursday in neighbouring Kenya amid claims that a $700,000 ransom was paid for their release.
Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan flew out of the Somali capital of Mogadishu in a chartered plane, said Somalia’s National Security Minister Mohamed Abdullahi.
In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying the pair was seen leaving Wilson Airport at high speed. Some of the vehicles had diplomatic licence plates.
Journalists were not able to speak to them, but a police officer confirmed that Lindhout and Brennan had arrived in Nairobi. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
In a statement from Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Lindhout’s release, which he described as a great relief to all Canadians. “Ms. Lindhout has been through an extremely difficult time; we are thankful that she will soon be reunited with her family and friends,” Harper said. “We are ensuring that she receives all available consular support and assistance following her ordeal.” Before leaving Mogadishu, Lindhout and Brennan met with Somalian Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who said the journalists had been held in a part of Mogadishu controlled by Islamic insurgents.
“As you were suffering in a part of the capital controlled by the insurgents, we were worried about you in our part of the capital,” Sharmarke said in remarks aired on the state-owned Radio Mogadishu.
“We could do nothing but negotiate. Your safety was important.”
Lindhout was wearing a brown head-to-toe garment known as an abaya during that meeting; Brennan was sporting a long beard.
In Somalia, police spokesman Col. Abdullahi Hassan Barise declined to say if a ransom was paid for their release. Harper’s statement noted in particular that “the Government of Canada was not involved in ransom negotiations.”
A Somali police officer and a legislator, both speaking late Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said a $700,000 ransom was paid — a claim it was impossible to independently verify.
In telephone interviews Wednesday, Lindhout said she was isolated, beaten and tortured during her captivity. She said she dreamed of walking through Vancouver’s Stanley Park to stay sane and not lose hope.
“My day was sitting on a floor in a corner, 24 hours a day for the last 15 months,” Lindhout told CTV from Mogadishu.
In Australia, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said on Thursday that Brennan “has revealed that he had been pistol-whipped and locked in chains for the past 10 months after a failed escape attempt.”
“I’m sure that all Queenslanders would join me in offering our heartfelt goodwill to Mr. Brennan and his entire family.”
Kellie Brennan, Nigel’s sister-in-law, told reporters: “It’s very hard to express the overwhelming sense of joy that we have today.”
Lindhout and Brennan were kidnapped in August 2008. A Somali journalist who was captured with them was freed this past January.
Journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransom in war-torn Somalia, one of the world’s poorest and most lawless countries. Foreign and local workers generally travel in convoys heavily guarded by freelance militiamen.
Somalia has been mired in anarchy and chaos since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.