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Foreign journalists abducted in Somalia

Frontline Club on Dipity.

Bloomberg is reporting that two foreign journalists are among five people who were kidnapped in Somalia today,

The two journalists, an Australian man and Canadian woman, had been staying at the Shamo Hotel and were scheduled to visit a refugee camp at Elasha, 17 kilometers (10 miles) south of Mogadishu, Ahmed Ali Salad, a worker at the hotel, said by telephone today. He said he knew only their first names, Nigel and Amanda. A Somali translator and two drivers working with them are also missing, he added. link

The Sydney Morning Herald has more,

"They were taken under the threat of firearms. It was an abduction," a security official at a hotel south of the capital told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity... "It's (clear) that they were kidnapped because their schedule was to come back to the hotel before 12 in the afternoon and we don't have their whereabouts," said Abdifatah Ajos Sanura, a director at the Shamo hotel where the pair stayed. link

Originally picked up via ABC News Twitter feed. UPDATE: Bloomberg update the story with the names of the kidnapped,

The Canadian is Amanda Lindhout, 26, a freelance journalist, and she had been working with a freelance photographer named Nigel Brennan, according to information on her profile on Facebook, Jesse Johnston, a reporter with Calgary-based Radio CHQR, who knows Lindhout, said in a telephone interview. Lindhout had been on a tour through Africa to put together freelance reports for a French television network and had hoped to sell the material to Canadian broadcasters as well, the Calgary Herald said, citing a Global National TV interview with Lindhout's father, John, and a recent e-mail from her to the Canadian broadcaster. link

Here is Amanda's lightstalkers page. And a number of Amanda's reports can be seen on LiveLeak. UPDATE: 24 August - The Canadian Press has more

The reporters, their Somali driver and two Somali guards were abducted on the way to see people displaced by the violence in Mogadishu and now living outside the city, said Abdihakim Haji, the brother-in-law of Abdifatah Elmi, one of the two guards. Haji said he knew about the abduction because it occurred while he was talking with Elmi on his cellphone during the trip to Elasha, about 18 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu. About halfway there, "I heard a voice ordering them to turn the car in a different direction," Haji said, recalling the last conversation he had with his brother-in-law. "My brother, in a low tone, was trying not to answer my inquiries but made me understood that they were caught in a difficult situation. I realized that things had changed and then their voices disappeared," Haji said in a telephone interview from Mogadishu. link

UPDATE: Meanwhile Frontline blogger David Axe is trying to contact his fixer, mentioned in the story, to find out more,

I’m glad to report that my friend Ajoos, a fixer working at Shamo, was not among those kidnapped, but it seems two of Shamo’s security detail might have been. I’ve emailed Ajoos and some of my other Somalia sources for more information, so stay tuned. link

UPDATE: Frontline blogger Alex, who has worked in Somalia, adds a bit more background to the abduction,

not only were they working with the fixer I use out there, but also they were working probably with the same interpreter, same security guards, and the same car Philip and I used when we were out there. link

UPDATE: 25 August - From Bloomberg,

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sent extra diplomatic and police officials to west Africa to help investigate the kidnapping in Somalia of a group of reporters, including an Australian photojournalist. ``We have deployed additional staff from our mission in Pretoria to our High Commission in Nairobi,'' Rudd told reporters in Canberra today. ``This is a sensitive and difficult case. We are engaged at every level.'' link

David Axe adds his own take on the difficulties in working to release kidnap victims in Somalia,

Because foreign journos are worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom, Brennan and Lindhout might very well be alive and even in perfect health. But freeing them means reaching their abductors through some agent based in Somalia. Identifying the abductors and enlisting an agent with real power … these are huge problems. link

UPDATE: The Edmonton Sun reports there is an Amanda Lindhout Facebook group,

Lindhout's cousin and Edmonton resident Angie Stewart was the first to write on the group's wall. In her post she thanked Argiroudis for creating the forum. "Amanda is my cousin, and now that her kidnapping has been confirmed, we are spreading the word and adding her to prayer lists around the world," link

On the ground Australian Police are on their way to Somalia to help the search for the Australian Nigel Brennan,

Australian Federal Police and extra diplomatic staff have been sent to Somalia to probe the kidnapping of Australian photo journalist Nigel Brennan by members of an armed militia. link

UPDATE: From Leader Post,

Somali Press Freedom founder Daud Abdi Daud told Canwest News Service the group was "close" to establishing contact with the kidnappers of freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout, 27, of Sylvan Lake, Alta., and freelance photojournalist Nigel Brennan, of Brisbane, Australia. link

UPDATE: August 26 - From CTV

Tom Rhodes, Africa co-ordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told CTV.ca on Monday that his sources say the militants are looking for a safe house to hold Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan. Once they have found such a place, it is believed they will make a formal ransom demand, he said. But "no one really knows what's going on," Rhodes glumly added. link

And yet more speculation from the Brisbane Times,

Omar Faruk Osman, secretary-general of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), said he believed a regional militia of the war-torn African nation's lower Shabelle region was behind the armed abduction. link

Frontline blogger David Axe speculates further,

What’s more disturbing is the possibility that the kidnapping was an inside job by one or both of the journos’ bodyguards/drivers. It’s telling that the Union’s statement makes no mention of the fifth man who apparently was part of the abducted group. Was this fifth man the traitor? link

UPDATE: 27 August - From The Canadian Press,

"What we have been able to glean is that the journalists - the Canadian, the Australian and the Somali - are unharmed, they have their clothes, they're getting food regularly and they may even have access to satellite TV," [Dennis Trudeau, spokesman for Reporters Without Borders in Montreal told The Canadian Press late Tuesday]. "I can't say more than that. You can understand that the group may be afraid of a possible armed mission to rescue the journalists." link

UPDATE: 29 August - Leonard Vincent, head of the Africa desk for Reporters Without Borders, talks to Canwest News Service,

"Things are moving positively," said Vincent. "It is a crucial moment and it would be very dangerous to disclose more than that." Vincent said more information would likely emerge "in the coming days" and that his organization was in touch with diplomats involved with efforts to free the journalists. "If everything continues like it is now, we can expect a positive outcome," he said. link

UPDATE: 3 Sept - From CBC News

The Toronto Star is reporting that negotiations are underway to secure the release of a kidnapped Canadian journalist and her Australian and Somali colleagues. link

UPDATE: 4 Sept - Canwest news has a tiny bit more,

The kidnappers are using the slower pace of the holy month to buy time in negotiations with influential local power brokers who are working to secure the release of Alberta native Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, the source said. The identity of the kidnappers has not yet been made public, but their captives are still believed to be in good health. "Still no concerns about their integrity or the outcome," said the source, who requested anonymity. "As soon as an agreement is reached they will be released..." The journalists were reportedly last seen in good health about 90 kilometres north of Mogadishu where they were said to be staying in a comfortable house that had access to satellite television. The identity of the captors and their current location has not been publicly disclosed. link

UPDATE: 7 Sept - From The Australian. The kidnappers demand $2.5 million cash,

"The kidnappers demanded 2.5 million dollars and we are trying to secure their release,'' said Dahir Farah, who has been participating in negotiations to free the three abducted in Somalia last month. Another person claiming to be an intermediary for the kidnappers spoke of the same ransom demand. He also allowed two people claiming to be the foreign journalists to speak briefly to news wire services. "I'm Amanda, the Canadian journalist. Our health situation is very well for the time being,'' Amanda Lindhout, a freelance foreign correspondent from the western Canadian province of Alberta, purportedly said. A man claiming to be Nigel Geoffrey Brennan, an Australian photographer, said: "We are very well now mentally and physically." link

UPDATE: 9 Sept - The Edmonton Sun corresponds with Lindhout's relatives,

Lindhout's cousin, Angie Stewart, said she has grown frustrated with wading through information in the media, some of which has turned out to be false. "To date, I have received so much conflicting information, it all depends what source I'm looking at as to which variety of the 'truth' I'm getting," the Red Deer resident said in an e-mail to Sun Media. link

UPDATE 17 Sept - Al Jazeera has aired a video that purports to show Australian photographer Nigel Brennan and the Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout,

The video showed Mr Brennan and Ms Lindhout, wearing an Islamic robe, along with armed Islamic militants. Ms Lindhout was speaking to camera but the tape's audio was not aired. Al Jazeera said the kidnappers, calling themselves Mujahideen of Somalia, accused Canada and Australia of "taking part in the destruction of Somalia" and demanded that they review their policies towards the African country. link

Western Australia Today reports government officials are checking the footage,

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the footage was being investigated. "We are aware that a video has been broadcast claiming to include footage of two journalists held captive in Somalia," DFAT said in a statement. "Relevant Australian agencies are currently assessing the footage." link

The screengrab above is taken from a News.com.au news report. Click the image to read more. UPDATE: Sept 19 - The Somalia Journalists Rights Agency expresses its concern over the abductions,

"We are kindly requesting Skeikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad "Indha Adde" and his group to release the Journalists immediately with out condition as they respect the International Declaration of the Human Rights" said Daud Abdi Daud SOJRA's Executive Director.," We tried our efforts how to release the detained Journalists, as we brought together delegates from Aiyr Clan and authorities from Canadian high commissioner in Nairobi and other delegates from Australia in order to discuss how to release the detained journalists with out condition. And they met two times" he added. link

UPDATE: Sept 30 - CanWest quotes a spokesman from Reporters Without Borders saying the relative silence of late is normal,

"It's usual that information doesn't leak whenever there are negotiations," Leonard Vincent said. "My take, from my expertise - negotiations have started again. Something is in the process." link

UPDATE: Oct 1 - Not much of an update, more of a commentary on reaction in Canada,

“None of the Somali community has stood up and said that this is unfair, to take hostage a Canadian citizen,” Issa told the Straight. “It is shameful for us Somalis in North America to see this.” link

UPDATE: Oct 14 - Press TV Iran report the journalists will be killed within 15 days if the ransom of $2.5 million is not paid. The National Union of Somali Journalists releases a statement. UPDATE: Oct 15 - From The Globe & Mail,

Leonard Vincent, who works for the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, said the hostage-takers are simply trying to get the attention of Canadian and Australian authorities. “This shows that they are very nervous and that they are starting to get impatient,” he said. “The bills are piling up. This kidnapping is starting to cost them a lot of money. So they are urging for a quick settlement and a quick agreement.” link

UPDATE: Oct 23 - From The Vancouver Sun,

The father of a Somali man - who was taken alongside freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout from Alberta and an Australian photojournalist - says the three are being poorly treated. According to the African Press Agency, Mohamed Elmi Dhere gave a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia, to urge the release of his son, Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, and the two others. The agency reported that the father is receiving updates on the condition of the three and he is concerned. "I was told that my son and his colleagues are unwell and have been mistreated," Dhere was quoted as saying by the Chinese Xinhua News Agency. "They need medication and their freedom," he said. link

UPDATE: Oct 29 The deadline for the ransom has come and gone with no news,

The 15-day deadline to pay a $2.5-million ransom or else a kidnapped Canadian journalist would be killed has expired with no news about her status or her fellow captives. link

UPDATE: Dec 2 Reporters without Borders are quoted as saying the journalists are safe and in the same place,

"What we can confirm is they are fine, in the same place and in the hands of the same group." [said Leonard Vincent, Africa desk chief of Paris-based Reporters without Borders] link

UPDATE: April 9, 2009 Mareeg reports an unconfirmed story that Amanda Lindhout is pregnant.

UPDATE: May 18, 2009 The Globe & Mail runs an interview with fellow kidnap victim Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi,

Mr. Elmi now says that before being released, he and two Somali colleagues were threatened and instructed on what to say once freed.  "They said to us, 'You have to say these words,' " said Mr. Elmi, who recently fled Somalia for Nairobi. " 'If you say another word, we will damage your family,' they said..."

...Though held together with his Somali colleagues in a separate room and not permitted to speak, Mr. Elmi said they quickly established a means of covert communication with Ms. Lindhout.

"Amanda, she was the most brave girl of us five," Mr. Elmi said. "She started the first connection of us. Since we were so afraid to be killed, she started to sign."

Sliding quietly to the edge of the room and sitting near the doorway, they started to converse every day with a few improvised hand signs.

"She said to me, 'Don't worry, we'll go out. Stay strong,' " said Mr. Elmi, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. link

UPDATE: June 5, 2009 - John Goddard in the Toronto Star gives us a round up on the kidnap situation some 9 months or more in,

Lindhout, 27 years old at her capture, was living a spirited but progressively risky life. She grew up in the Alberta tourist town of Sylvan Lake, near Red Deer. Her family belongs to Red Deer's First Christian Reform Church, whose website lists her father, John Lindhout, among those "unable to worship with us regularly due to illness or age." He is said to have cancer. The family is not giving interviews. link

UPDATE: June 10, 2009 - Amanda lindhout alleges calls CTV newsroom in Canada,

Transcript of the telephone statement made to CTV News from someone purporting to be Amanda Lindhout on Wednesday, June 10, 2009: 

"Um. Yeah. I have a statement I can read and that's all I can say. So...

My name is Amanda Lindhout. I'm a Canadian citizen and I've been held hostage by gunmen in Somalia for nearly 10 months. I'm in a desperate situation. I'm being kept in a dark, windowless room in chains without any clean drinking water and little food or no food. I've been very sick for months without any medicine.

I'm begging my government and fellow Canadian citizens to assist my family in paying my ransom. The Canadian government must have some duty to help its citizen in such a crisis, and my fellow citizens to assist me by putting pressure on my government.

I love my country and I want to live to see it again. Without food or medicine, I will die here and I'm in need of immediate aid. I implore my family whom I love more than anything to continue searching for money for my release. Without it, I will die here.

I will also tell them that they must deal directly with these people, if my life depends on it. My life is worth more than any money spent. To fellow journalists in Canada, please help bring attention to my situation and contribute in anyway possible, in order that I may return home to Canada. That's all I can say." link

Update July 23 - Nigel Brennan's mother approaches Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd,

"These are difficult, sensitive and complex negotiations... (said Rudd) ...If I was to look at the consular cases upon which I have spent the most time since I've been prime minister, it is this one,' he said.  'It is one which the government takes seriously, but I do not underestimate the degree of difficulty involved in this. It is very hard." link

Update August 21 - The Red Deer Advocate rounds up the kidnap story almost one year on,

Bob Mills, Red Deer MP at the time Lindhout disappeared, taught Lindhout’s parents when he was a high school biology teacher in Red Deer.

“I think the parents and myself are pretty happy with what (the Canadian government) is doing,” Mills said. “The more publicity you give, the more valuable that person becomes. You can ask for a higher ransom.”

As soon as governments start paying ransoms, then every Canadian citizen is potentially a target, he added.

He feels for the family when rumours of Lindhout being abused by her captors surface.

Mills is convinced the government is “doing a lot” for Lindhout’s release.

The RCMP are heavily involved, he added.

“It’s horrible when you have a failed state and you have a bunch of warlords running things,” Mills said. “There’s no government to government (dealings). There’s no pressure from neighbouring governments because there is no government (in Somalia).”

Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen is in regular touch with the family and Foreign Affairs.

“I think Foreign Affairs is constantly working and monitoring the situation and putting all of their efforts into it,” he said. “The situation she is in is uppermost in our minds." link

Update August 21 - Inside Somalia has a little more coming up to the one year anniversary,

One year after she was snatched off a Somalian roadside at gunpoint, Alberta-born journalist Amanda Lindhout remains held by her captors.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions — it’s not the conventional kidnap and ransom case whatsoever,” said Calgary-based anti-terrorism expert Daniel Clayton.

Clayton met Lindhout two years ago in Afghanistan. The tall, attractive, white woman represented the ideal target for kidnappers, he said.

“I remember telling someone ‘she better be careful,’” Clayton said. link

November 25, 2009 - Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan are free,

"I'm so happy to be free; it feels like a dream," Canadian Amanda Lindhout said. Her Australian colleague Nigel Brennan said he was still "in shock" link