Somali pirates free British hostage, en route to Kenya

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2012 7:19 AM
Somali pirates free British hostage, en route to Kenya

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates freed British hostage Judith Tebbutt on Wednesday after a ransom was paid, with footage showing her rushing onto an airplane more than six months after gunmen killed her husband and kidnapped her from a luxury beach resort in neighboring Kenya.

Tebbutt's kidnapping and the subsequent abductions of foreigners prompted Kenya to send hundreds of troops into Somalia late last year in an attempt to crush the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants whom Nairobi blamed for the attacks.

"After efforts today, we have succeeded in the release of the British woman. She just left from Adado airport to Nairobi," Omar Mohammed Diirey, a regional administration official, told Reuters from Adado in central Somalia.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed she had been released.

"Our priority now is to get her to a place of safety," it said in a statement.

Two witnesses said they saw Tebbutt boarding an airplane that took off from Adado airport. BBC footage showed Tebbutt wearing a green headscarf running towards a plane in a flat, barren landscape. A man in a bush hat and safari jacket was seen accompanying her, his arm around her shoulders.

A pirate who identified himself as Ahmed told Reuters Tebbutt, who is in her 50s and had a hearing defect, had been handed over to regional administration officials early on Wednesday after receiving a ransom that had been air dropped.

"I am very relieved to have been released," Tebbutt was quoted as telling Britain's ITV News.

"... I am just happy to be released and I'm looking forward to seeing my son who successfully secured my release. I don't know how he did it, but he did. Which is great."

It was not clear who paid the ransom or how much was paid.

Gunmen raided the remote Kiwayu Safari Village in the early hours of September 11, shooting dead publishing executive David Tebbutt, 58, and taking his wife hostage before escaping by boat to nearby Somalia.

In the following weeks, attackers abducted a disabled French woman from another beach in northern Kenya and two Spanish aid workers from a refugee camp in the east African country.

Blaming Somali insurgents, Kenya deployed its forces across the border, scrambling to beef up security along the porous frontier and reassure a spooked tourism sector.

Al Shabaab denied they were behind the wave of kidnappings and pirates, who usually focus on hijacking merchant ships and private yachts off the lawless country's coast, said they were holding Tebbutt.

Kidnapping for ransom has chiefly been carried out by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean but Somali gunmen have attacked Westerners just across the border with Kenya on several occasions.

Somalia has been mired in turmoil since warlords toppled dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ahmed in Nairobi; Additional reporting by David Clarke in Nairobi and Estelle Shirbon in London; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Richard Lough and Susan Fenton)