Two Western freelance journalists have been flown to Nairobi, Kenya after being freed by their kidnappers in Somalia late Wednesday. The pair endured months of mental and physical anguish while their captors demanded a ransom payment for their release.
Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan flew out of Mogadishu on a chartered plane Wednesday, 15 months after they were kidnapped by gunmen on a road outside of Mogadishu.
The kidnappers reportedly handed over the journalists to four members of Somalia's transitional federal government late Wednesday at a security checkpoint in the capital. Details of the release have not been made public.
In a subsequent interview with Canadian Television, Lindhout described her life in captivity as "extremely difficult." Ten months ago, the pair tried to escape, but they were quickly recaptured. The journalists were separated and kept most of the time chained up in a dark, windowless room.
As negotiations for their release dragged on, Lindhout says she was routinely beaten and forced to call her mother by phone to plead for payment. She says her captors insisted that $1 million was not an unreasonable amount because they believed everyone in Canada was wealthy.
In a separate interview with Reuters new agency, Brennan said he, too, was kept in chains and was pistol-whipped by his captors. He said he and Lindhout were held by the same people who kidnapped them. But he said he feared that the gunmen would lose patience and sell them to al-Shabab, a militant, al-Qaida-linked Islamic group that controls parts of Mogadishu. There are unconfirmed reports that al-Shabab had offered the kidnappers as much as half-a-million dollars for the pair.
The governments of Canada and Australia have a strict policy against making ransom payments. Several months ago, the family of Nigel Brennan expressed their frustration to the media in Australia, saying that little progress was being made to secure the release of the journalists.
On Thursday, Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke refused to comment on reports that a ransom of as much as $700,000 was eventually paid to the kidnappers.
The prime minister says his government sends its gratitude to those involved in the negotiations for the journalists' release. He says it is not, however, appropriate to talk about whether a ransom payment was made.
An international security analyst with experience in kidnapping and ransom negotiations in Somalia tells VOA that an undisclosed amount of money was raised by the families of the victims, and subsequently paid through local Somali contacts.
Somalia remains one the most of the dangerous places in the world for journalists. Eighteen journalists have been killed there since 2005, hit by stray bullets or targeted by assassins. In recent years, there have been several attempted and successful kidnappings of western journalists in southern Somalia and in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.