Freed British reporter craved beer after Somali 'hell-hole'
A British journalist held hostage in a Somali "hell-hole" for almost six weeks told Monday of his relief at being released, saying a pint of lager was his first priority.world Updated: Jan 05, 2009 17:11 IST
A British journalist held hostage in a Somali "hell-hole" for almost six weeks told Monday of his relief at being released, saying a pint of lager was his first priority.
But in an account for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Colin Freeman also told of the darkest moments of his captivity with a Spanish photographer, including when kidnappers put a gun to his head and acted out his imminent execution.
The indication that they were finally to be released 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, photographer Jose Cendon, "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, accompanied along the way by a growing band of well-armed Somalis.
"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 Boosaaso 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."
Cendon, 34, and Freeman, 39, had been working on a piracy story when they were kidnapped November 26 while on their way back to the airport in the northern Somali port of Bosasso.
Security sources in Somalia said a ransom was paid for their release although no official confirmation could immediately be obtained.
Cendon told AFP their release was negotiated by The Sunday Telegraph.