1 day ago
LONDON (AFP) — A British journalist held hostage in a Somali "hell-hole" for almost six weeks told Monday how kidnappers at one point put a gun to his head and acted out a mock execution.
In an account for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Colin Freeman also told of his relief at being released, saying a pint of lager was his first priority.
Freeman, 39, and Spanish photographer Jose Cendon, 34, had been working on a piracy story when they were kidnapped on November 26 while on their way back to the airport in the northern Somali port of Bosasso.
The indication that they were finally to be released at the weekend came when one of their Somali captors stuck his head into the cave where they were held, saying there was another telephone call from London.
"It was at least the 10th call from London since we were snatched and while each offered a welcome lifeline to the outside world, they were always fraught with tension," wrote Freeman, the chief foreign correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph.
"Occasionally, there would be news that the talks to free us were progressing well, but more often the word was of endless complications.
"Sometimes the kidnappers would threaten to harm us, and on one occasion they cocked a Kalashnikov rifle at my head and made a convincing pantomime of my imminent execution."
This time it seemed to be good news, he said, as the gang leader Moussa "cracked a rare grin and uttered two words in the fractured Arabic that was the only mutual language we had: 'Al yom,' he said, meaning today."
Freeman told how he exchanged "hopeful glances" with his fellow captive, "although it was not yet time for high fives.
"A week before, we had received a near identical promise, only for our captors to erupt into feuding and cancel our release. Please, this time, let this be it, I thought. I can't face another month in this hell-hole."
But the next morning their captors cleared out the camp where they had been staying, and they were led off, amid rising hopes and accompanied along the way by a growing band of well-armed Somalis.
However, "other less reassuring preparations were also under way: the gang members clicking fresh bullets into the magazines of their Kalashnikovs and loading the belts of two fearsome looking machine guns," he said.
"Not for the first time, I entertained visions of the handover ending in a bloodbath, or with whoever was coming to meet us being abducted as well."
Eventually, "after bouncing along more mountain roads, we pulled up at the top of a valley where we underwent a Somali version of the Checkpoint Charlie handovers of the Cold War," Freeman wrote.
"I lit a cigarette -- a habit I was supposed to have given up 16 years ago -- and inhaled deeply, thinking happily about home, my family, my girlfriend and -- most importantly -- a strong pint of lager.
"Three hours later, we were bumping along the runway at Bosasso airport, and our wheels left the Somali ground. We were airborne. After 40 days and 40 nights in the Somali mountains, we were finally free."