Freed foreign journalists in Kenyan hospital

AP News
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Posted: Nov 26, 2009 11:35 AM

Two foreign journalists freed after 15 months in captivity in Somalia were receiving medical care on Thursday in neighboring Kenya, Canada's ambassador said.

Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan flew out of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in a chartered plane early Thursday. Later in the day Lindhout and Brennan arrived in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and were taken to a hospital.

"They are receiving the best possible care they can," Ross Hynes, Canada's ambassador to Kenya, told The Associated Press. He declined to give more details. Brennan is reported to have said he was pistol whipped and locked in chains for months during the time he was held hostage.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed Lindhout's release.

"We are ensuring that she receives all available consular support and assistance following her ordeal," Harper said in a statement Thursday. "Ms. Lindhout has been through an extremely difficult time. We are thankful that she will soon be reunited with her family and friends."

He said that the Canadian government was not involved in ransom negotiations and urged Canadians not to travel to Somalia.

Before leaving Mogadishu, Lindhout and Brennan met with Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who said the journalists had been held in a part of Mogadishu controlled by Islamic insurgents.

"As you were suffering in a part of the capital controlled by the insurgents, we were worried about you in our part of the capital," Sharmarke said in remarks aired on the state-owned Radio Mogadishu. "We could do nothing but negotiate. Your safety was important."

At that meeting Lindhout was wearing a brown head-to-toe abaya and Brennan had grown a long beard.

Lindhout and Brennan were released on Wednesday. Police spokesman Col. Abdullahi Hassan Barise declined to say if a ransom was paid for their release.

A police officer and a lawmaker said late Wednesday that a $700,000 ransom was paid for the two journalists' release. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media on the issue. It was not possible to independently verify their claim.

In Australia, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said on Thursday that Brennan "has revealed that he had been pistol whipped and locked in chains for the past 10 months after a failed escape attempt. I'm sure that all Queenslanders would join me in offering our heartfelt goodwill to Mr. Brennan and his entire family."

Kellie Brennan, Nigel's sister-in-law, told reporters: "It's very hard to express the overwhelming sense of joy that we have today."

Lindhout and Brennan were kidnapped in August 2008. A Somali journalist who was captured with them was freed in January this year.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has said Lindhout and Brennan are freelance journalists.

Journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia, one of the world's poorest and most war torn countries. Foreign and local workers generally travel in convoys heavily guarded by freelance militiamen.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy and chaos since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

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Hassan reported from Mogadishu, Somalia.