'Ended up staying'

Canadian reporter speaks out about surviving rape and torture she suffered while being held captive in Somalia

A reporter from Canada is speaking out about a harrowing 15-month ordeal in which she was held captive by militants in Somalia. In August of 2008, Amanda Lindhout accepted an assignment to cover the war ravaging Somalia at the time. Lindhout was a freelance reporter and she won the assignment alongside her friend, Nigel Brennan, a photojournalist from Australia, to report on people displaced by war in Somalia.

“It was a very important story to tell,” Lindhout recalled in an interview with Australia’s Channel 7. “Also, as a young, mostly freelance journalist, it was also an opportunity for me.” The two set out on what was expected to be a one-week visit to Somalia. “Only we ended up staying,” she says now, looking back on the fateful journey.

Within three days of arriving, Lindhout and Brennan were promptly abducted by Islamist militants. And thus began a stretch of brutal torture that lasted for 15 months and tested her resolve to the point of suicide. Lindhout spoke candidly about the moment they were kidnapped by a gang of AK-47-wielding marauders, how she nearly escaped at one point and how she was mere moments from taking her own life after reaching the height of despair.

The men who abducted the two, Lindhout said, were young and uneducated — and planned to hold them for a $1.5 million ransom. The kidnappers spoke with British accents, which she believed they developed from listening to BBC radio. At first, the two were treated well by their captors, who seemed genuinely interested in the journalists. Lindhout and Brennan were well fed and the abductors asked them numerous questions to learn about their respective personal narratives. But after two months, things took a dark turn.

Freed hostages, Amanda Lindhout (L), a Canadian freelance reporter, and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist smile to photographers in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on November 26, 2009. (Courtesy Government of Somalia/Handout via REUTERS )

Lindhout and Brennan were separated by their captors. “Everything changed for me as a woman” from that moment on, Lindhout said. She was forced at gunpoint to make a call to her mother demanding the ransom money be paid. Lindhout’s mother, of course, didn’t have the money to afford the ransom, and the Canadian government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, so the call home was all in vain.

After five months, Lindhout nearly escaped. She managed to dislodge some bricks surrounding the window in the room where she was being held, and slipped out. Then, she and Brennan, who got out too, fled to a mosque — with their captors in hot pursuit. Once inside, “We were pleading with this roomful of Muslims,” when the abductors burst in, brandishing firearms. But then a woman stepped forward on their behalf.

“This is the first woman that I had seen since we had been abducted,” Lindhout said. “And she was dressed in the full Islamic hijab so even her face was covered. I could just see her eyes. Way through the crowded mosque, and she came directly to me. And she pulled me into her arms and in English she called me her sister. And then she turns to our kidnappers begging them to let us go.“

“And this woman,” Lindhout continued, “she didn’t give up and she threw herself, she threw her body on top of mine and she hung on to me together across that floor.” But this dramatic appeal was to no avail, as the captors dragged Lindhout and Brennan away. As they were driven away in a car, Lindhout said she heard a single gunshot come from inside the mosque. She never found out what became of that brave woman.

Of course, Lindhout was raped repeatedly, day in and day out, she has said. And it was during one of those assaults, by a man named Abdulla, that she had what may seem like an incomprehensible experience. “I had a really amazing experience one day when Abdulla was raping me that I left my body,” Lindhout says. “A psychologist would call this a dissociated state. It probably was that, but it was also something that felt quite spiritual for me,” she explained.

“In those dissociated moments … I literally was observing the two of us on the floor and him on top of me and, you know, I was in such excruciating pain, that in those detached moments I actually understood something about him,“ Lindhout said.

“Surprisingly, what I felt in that moment was sympathy, compassion for this young man who was on top of me, hurting me,” she added. It felt like relief from all the hatred and anger that I had held onto so tightly for, you know, the months that had led up to that moment.”

She finally reached her breaking point when she was given a razor blade and ordered to shave off all of the hair on her body. Lindhout said she decided to take her own life and was about to do it when a “messenger” came and saved her from committing suicide.

“A little bit of movement caught my eye and I look over and there was a bird hopping around in this little bit of light. He’d flown in … I had not seen a bird in over a year.” It was enough to give her hope. Soon after, she and Brennan were sold to a rival gang, and not long after that, the two were freed after the ransom was paid and she received a call from her mother informing her of the good news.

Below, watch several highlights from the extraordinary interview with Lindhout.

Read the full story at News.au.com.

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