Canadian Journalist Tells Horrible Stories of Torture, Rape Over 15-Month Ordeal in Somalia

Published August 8th, 2018 - 01:06 GMT
Amanda Lindhout (Twitter)
Amanda Lindhout (Twitter)

A Canadian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured and raped for 15 months in war-torn Somalia has told how she was forced to the brink of committing suicide before the sight of a bird stopped her.

Freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout was just 26 when she traveled to the volatile east African nation's capital of Mogadishu in 2008 alongside her then boyfriend, 36-year-old Australian photographer Nigel Brennan.

On August 23, their third day in the country, the pair were kidnapped and abductors called their families and demanded a $1.5million ransom for each of them in exchange for their lives.

For the 15 months that followed the pair were beaten, starved and Lindhout was repeatedly raped.

Now nine years on and two months after the man behind the kidnapping was jailed, she recounts how she came to the 'calm decision' that she was going to use a small razor to take her own life 13 months into the ordeal as she couldn't take the torture any longer.

'I was really getting close to making this decision,' she told Australia's Channel Seven. '[And] as the morning sun was coming up... a little bit of movement caught my eye... and there was a bird hopping around in this little bit of light.'

'I'd always believed in signs of a messenger, in a way, to hold on,' she said.

'And that bird was a messenger.

'The desire to end my life left me and it never came back and this amazing feeling just flooded through my body, which was determination to survive no matter what; that I would have my freedom again; I would see my family.'

Lindhout, from Red Deer, Alberta, was not affiliated with any news organisation at the time of her kidnapping but had completed assignments in Somalia for France 24 and had previously worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brennan had no experience of war zones.

She described in the interview from the moment they were kidnapped to a failed escape attempt and finally their release after a ransom was paid.

'We were going to an internally displaced people's camp. That was going to be the big story that we were in Somalia for.

'We're on a big open highway road and we see a car pulled over off to the side up ahead. Within minutes what unfolded was like something out of a nightmare.

'There were about a dozen armed men who had been hiding behind that parked car. And the next thing I knew I had been abducted,' she said.

After their capture she said they were constantly moved to different houses and the pair converted to Islam as they believed doing so might improve their treatment from their captors, but it did not.



After four months, in the middle of the night, the aspiring journalist was strong-armed into a car and driven out into the center of the desert.

'They took me out of the car under this tree, pulled my head back, and the next thing I knew there was a knife at my throat,' she recalled.

'One of them was telling me that they were going to give me 30 seconds to convince my mother to pay the money within seven days or they were going to behead me.'

Then, after five months, Lindhout and Brennan attempted to escape.

The pair managed to loosen several bricks and jump out of a window before fleeing to a nearby crowded mosque - only to be pursued by their armed captors.

As the Somali kidnappers entered the building behind them, Lindhout recounts a surreal story of a woman, clothed head-to-toe in a full Islamic hijab, stepping forward to embrace her.

'She pulled me into her arms and in English she called me her sister,' Lindhout said. 'And then she turns to our kidnappers begging them to let us go.

'[But] the next thing I knew one of them had grabbed me around my ankles and was dragging me by my feet across the floor of the mosque. I was being taken to the door where the truck was parked... [and] they brought Nigel out in the same way.'

Emotionally, Lindhout revealed that 'as we drove off there was a gunshot inside the mosque and I still don't know what happened to that amazing woman'.

She also goes on to recall the 'punishment' she received as a result of her failed escape attempt.

Locked in a pitch-black room, the sexual assaults she had been subjected to suddenly escalated in both frequency and intensity.

Finally, 460 days after being captured, Lindhout and Brennan were set free after their families scraped together thousands of dollars and begged for their lives.

A small handful of men entered the room where Lindhout was being kept and sawed off the chains that had been clapped around her ankles.

Moments later, she and Brennan were carried out into a waiting vehicle and driven several hours to another location - all the while still believing that they were merely entering another phase of their imprisonment.

It was only after they were surrounded by 40 armed Somali men and approached by a man presenting a cell phone that the reality of their rescue became clear.  

'I'm totally confused and I put it to my ear and my mum's on the other end and she says to me, "Amanda, you're free,''' Lindhout recounted.

'And all of these people had been organised by our families to get us out of Somalia... a ransom had been paid, and we came to understand all the ways that our freedom had come to be and the incredible sacrifices that people had made.'

Now, nearly nine years later, Lindhout finds immeasurable value in those simple pleasures she'd previously taken for granted.

'The ability to move my body... the freedom to use the toilet when I wanted to... to be able to see the sky again,' she said.

'Just to be able to see the sky again, that's over our head every day. I had never really looked up and really appreciated it until after my freedom.'

On June 18, the man who had orchestrated the kidnapping and the ransom Ali Omar Ader was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Canada. 

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Smith handed down the sentence after ruling that the 40-year-old Somalian national was a 'willing participant' in the hostage-taking.

Ader had denied charges and claimed he was forced into serving as a negotiator and translator on behalf of a gang which threatened to harm him and his family. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) lured Ader from Somalia to Canada with the promise of a lucrative book-publishing deal, leading to his arrest in Ottawa in June 2015.

Ader had held many telephone conversations with Lindhout’s mother demanding the ransom and told undercover officers that he had received $10,000 for his role in the kidnapping.

Lindhout was called upon to testify in front of him. She described both her testimony and the victim impact statement that went with it as an 'extremely difficult' process, albeit one that came with 'huge pieces of closure and healing'.

The now 36-year-old also reflects that she feels 'lighter' for it: 'I feel like I have let go of something.'

And for all her lingering fears and anxieties, one thing that doesn't scare Lindhout is the prospect of forever being a victim to her past - or the idea that mankind lacks decency.  

'I absolutely believe in the goodness of humankind,' she declares.

'It'd be easy to watch the news and think that the world is mostly bad people doing terrible things and it's just absolutely not true. That is a small handful of people who, themselves, carry a great deal of pain that leads them to hurt other people.

'But actually, our world is just full of such kindness and goodness and compassion and I certainly experience that every day.'

Brennan published a memoir the Price of a Life in 2011 while Lindhout's released a memoir, A House in the Sky, in 2013. The former couple no longer speak. 


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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