After she was starved, beaten and sexually abused for almost a year, Amanda Lindhout decided to kill herself. Amanda was abducted in Somalia in August 2008 and believes that she reached her breaking point over a period of three days when her hands and feet were tied so tightly behind her back that she could not even breathe. In her memoir titled A House in The Sky that was released recently, the Canadian woman recollects her experience as a hostage.
Robert Draper, a journalist with National Geographic recalls a meeting with Amanda at the Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu just before she was taken hostage. As she discovered later, the abductors had initially planned to abduct the whole crew from National Geographic but they had to eventually settle for Amanda and her colleague, Nigel Brennan from Australia after the National Geographic crew beefed up its security. On August 23 that year, the duo set out for Somalia’s Wild West where even their bodyguards refused to accompany them. After driving a few miles beyond the checkpoint, the two were confronted by a blue Suzuki and twelve gunmen who barged into Amanda and Nigel’s SUV and drove them away.
The duo were taken to a house 45 minutes away and put away in a room with two mattresses. The abductors introduced themselves as jihadis, snatched away all their belongings before taking Amanda to a different room to molest her. The following day, the commander introduced himself as Adan and told the duo that Allah would want them to be sent back home if their respective countries agreed to pay a ransom of $3 million.
Nigel belongs to a middle class family that has several mortgages and only $25000 in savings while Amanda’s parents are divorced – her mother working for minimum wage and her father living on disability. Despite the fact that governments refuse to pay ransom, the jihadis seemed convinced that both hostages would find a way to pay.
In the initial days of their captivity, Amanda and Nigel decided to convert to Islam in order to survive. The jihadis agree and handed them a Quran. However, the jihadists argued that even though the Quran forbids Muslims to take money from one another, rape another Muslim woman and kill a fellow Muslim, this is a special scenario and the captives could be subjected to anything the abductors deemed fit.
As soon as they converted, life for both Amanda and Nigel worsened. Since the religion does not allow unmarried Muslim men and women to share the same space, they were immediately moved to separate rooms. They were instructed to eat with their right hand and wipe with their left. And even though both prayed five times a day, they were starved and beaten on several occasions. They were repeatedly threatened to be sold to the Somali offshoot of Al Qaeda called Al Shabaab and despite the duos’ attempt to befriend the jihadis during the day, Amanda was raped every night.
After being forced to clean her lenses with dirty water, Amanda developed an eye infection while a fungus grew its way from her mouth to her cheek. Nigel on the other hand, acquired dysentery and started bleeding regularly. When Amanda needed sanitary napkins, her captors refused to get her any. In November however, both captives received packages carrying necessities like medicine, eye glasses, sanitary napkins, fresh underwear and reading material other than the Quran, from their respective consulates.
After the first hundred nights, Amanda was forced from her bed and driven to the desert where she was made to kneel while one of the jihadis held a knife to her throat. She begged for her life as they fought over whether to kill her before finally throwing her to the ground. Then they handed her a phone and asked her to call her mother saying that if the jihadis did not receive a million dollars within a week, she would have to pay with her life.
Together, Amanda and Nigel decided to escape the next day after they realized that they could shimmy their way out from between the loose bars on the bathroom window. After wriggling out, the two ran towards a nearby mosque screaming for help in broken Somali. By the time they got there, their captors were already waiting for them with AK-47s. The two were beaten savagely in front of locals before being dragged away to a new home – one that had rooms like coffins, measuring three feet by seven feet, pitch dark and also home to rats.
Here Amanda was gang-raped everyday despite her bleeding from bruises – she was gagged, hogtied and beaten repeatedly. On one occasion she found a razor with which she attempted to kill herself only for good sense to kick in before it was too late. Both Amanda and Nigel were clueless as to what was going on behind the scenes and neither was asked to make calls back home.
Eventually both Amanda and Nigel’s families decided to bypass their respective governments and hire the services of a private security firm that specializes in kidnapping and ransom. After several conflicts, both families worked together to have Amanda and Nigel freed. Nigel’s sister flew to Somalia after putting her own life at stake for transferring a large amount of money to fund terrorists. Eventually on November 25, 2009 both Amanda and Nigel were freed in an off-road exchange. They were escorted to the most secure hotel in Somalia so that they could be flown out of the country the next day itself. It is believed that while in captivity, Amanda gave birth to a boy named Osama. Amanda and Nigel no longer speak. Nigel published his own memoir titled Price of Life in 2011.
Kidnapped, Part 1
Kidnapped, Part 2
Kidnapped, Part 3
Kidnapped, Part 4
Kidnapped, Part 5
Kidnapped, Part 6
The single-most interesting detail in this account is to note how when the hostages had broken free, they shouted in the open for help but received none from the civilians who witnessed this, nor was any action taken after they were recaptured. The basic sense of morality and compassion has been maimed by the obsession for the idealized Islamic state in Somalia that is now into its third decade.
See articles by Nirav Mehta