NAIROBI (Reuters) - An Australian freelance journalist kidnapped in Somalia in August last year feared he would be handed over to hardline rebels when he was bundled into a car Wednesday night.
Instead, photojournalist Nigel Brennan and Canadian freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout were driven to a hotel in Mogadishu and released -- ending their 15 month ordeal.
“Tonight we were ripped out of our rooms, stripped of everything, told to put on new clothes and then thrown in a car and then driven -- we had no idea what was going on,” Brennan told Reuters by phone from the hotel.
“We were always kept by the same people. That was especially one of my concerns toward the end. They were talking about selling us to another group,” he said.
The two journalists were seized in August 2008 on their way to a camp outside the capital for Somalis uprooted by the violence that has plagued the Horn of Africa nation.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government for 18 years and is a dangerous place for foreign aid workers and journalists as they risk being kidnapped by one of the myriad armed groups and held for ransom.
Brennan said he had been tortured physically and mentally. He said he was kept in chains and had been totally isolated from Lindhout for the past 10 months, after they tried to escape.
“Locked in a room, very little light. I haven’t been able to exercise at all. You know, simple things like being told not to smile, not to laugh -- not that there was much to laugh about,” he said.
“But my friend Amanda had a pretty rough time, I know that. She was severely beaten and we were both tortured both mentally and physically,” he said.
“Being pistol whipped is sort of torture, being completely stripped of everything and then locked in a room, no one to speak to, is a form of torture really,” he said. “It’s been pretty arduous the last 15 months.”
Brennan said they were held by the same group for the whole time but feared they would be sold onto al Shabaab, the hardline rebels that Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
The Western-backed administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is battling al Shabaab and other rebel groups, and controls little more than a few parts of the capital Mogadishu.
He said their captors were good to them to start with but conditions worsened as time passed.
“They were saying that al Shabaab was willing to pay half a million dollars for us, and then hold us til they could get whatever they wanted for us.”
The two journalists were due to fly to Kenya’s capital Nairobi Thursday.
“We’ve been through a pretty rough time, both of us. Just to be free is amazing,” Brennan said.
“It hasn’t been the most pleasant experience of my life, but I‘m just happy that I‘m alive, happy I‘m alive and looking forward to seeing my family and trying to pick up the threads of my life.”
Editing by Janet Lawrence