Sunday Telegraph chief foreign correspondent Colin Freeman has spoken of his six-week hostage ordeal in Somalia and said he had established “a good rapport” with his kidnappers.
Freeman and Spanish freelance photographer Jose Cendon completed an investigation into a spate of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and were driving to Boosaaso airport in the Somali region of Puntland on 26 November when their bodyguards turned against them and captured them.
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Freeman said the pair had no idea how long their captors intended to keep them for, or the motives behind the kidnapping.
Asked if he feared for his life, Freeman said: “Obviously you do in a situation like that, however they were very keen to keep us alive and as time as went on we established a good rapport with them and to a certain extent they actually became fairly chatty to us.
“None of them spoke a word of English. We could communicate a bit in Arabic which I speak a little bit of, but we really didn’t know what it was they wanted or anything else. The communication was pretty limited.”
The pair were freed on Sunday and flown to Nairobi in Kenya. A Telegraph Media Group spokeswoman said yesterday that Freeman would spend the day “relaxing and getting his energy back” before returning to Britain.
“One of the worst things was that we had no idea how long we were going to be there – whether it was going to be over in 24 hours or whether it was going to be over in a week, three weeks, six weeks, two months, a year – we just didn’t really know at all,” Freeman told the Today programme.
“You have to summon all your mental strength to cope with it. We were pretty sure that we would get released but you just have to project it to some unspecified time in the future when you know it will happen. That was one of the most difficult things.”
The Telegraph first received contact from Freeman five days after he was kidnapped when he called the newsdesk. The newspaper later set up a crisis management team to support his release.
The Foreign Office said it was offering consular assistance to Freeman but dismissed claims a ransom had been paid for his safe return.
Press freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders said journalists planning to visit the Puntland region needed to prepare “with the utmost care”.
“This unfortunate incident highlights the importance for foreign journalists and humanitarian personnel in Somalia to check with the most reliable Somali organisations to ensure that the people they hire as fixers, interpreters or drivers are trustworthy,” it said.