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Amanda Lindhout, journalist kidnapped for 15 months in Somalia, talks to Andrew Denton

A journalist has described the horrific experiences of her kidnapping, rape and 15 months of captivity in Somalia.

37-year-old Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout told Andrew Denton in “Seven’s Interview” how, as a 26-year-old freelance journalist, she and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan visited Somalia in 2008 as part of their fascination with East Africa.

The trip was actually only planned for a week and Somalia was known as a “red zone for kidnappings” at the time. On the third day, the two left the city accompanied by three armed security guards.

Lindhout, who had previously worked in Baghdad and Afghanistan, said the crew noticed another car had stopped, “and within a few minutes something like a nightmare happened.”

Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout, 37, told Andrew Denton in Seven's interview how she, as a 26-year-old freelance journalist, and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan visited Somalia in 2008 and were taken hostage. Source: SevenCanadian reporter Amanda Lindhout, 37, told Andrew Denton in Seven's interview how she, as a 26-year-old freelance journalist, and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan visited Somalia in 2008 and were taken hostage. Source: Seven

Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout, 37, told Andrew Denton in Seven’s interview how she, as a 26-year-old freelance journalist, and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan visited Somalia in 2008 and were taken hostage. Source: Seven

About 12 armed men hiding behind the car got out and aimed AK-47s at Lindhout’s vehicle, forcing the crew to stop before taking Lindhout and Brennan hostage.

“I remember thinking at first, ‘Maybe this is a robbery.’ Or naively thinking, ‘I could talk my way out of this,'” she said.

The then 26-year-old said it became “very real” when a man calling himself Adam told Lindhout and Brennan he was demanding a ransom. He asked for their family’s contact information and wanted $1.5 million for their lives.

None of the families could afford it and neither the Canadian nor Australian governments were willing to pay a ransom.

Lindhout (centre) and Brennan (right) are being held by their captors in Somalia. Source: SevenLindhout (centre) and Brennan (right) are being held by their captors in Somalia. Source: Seven

Lindhout (centre) and Brennan (right) are being held by their captors in Somalia. Source: Seven

Beginnings of abuse

The two were initially left together and there was no physical abuse at first.

Lindhout added that their captors were “uneducated” and fascinated by Brennan and Lindhout’s lives and their backgrounds.

But when the couple separated, everything changed.

Lindhout said captivity was costing their captors money – for food and hygiene items. The hostages were getting less to eat and their captors were becoming frustrated.

“Almost the day we were separated, the sexual abuse began,” she said.

Nigel Brennan after his release in 2009. Source: Getty ImagesNigel Brennan after his release in 2009. Source: Getty Images

Nigel Brennan after his release in 2009. Source: Getty Images

“How does it feel to know you’re going to die?”

Lindhout recalled that four months after her captivity, she was woken up in the middle of the night and driven to an acacia tree in the middle of the desert. She had previously been sexually abused by a man named Abdulla and had experienced multiple rapes.

“It’s even hard to talk about it now,” she said.

“They had moved us to several different houses. I thought maybe that was happening, but they didn’t move Nigel out.”

Lindhout feared the worst – Abdulla was among the men sitting in the car with her, their faces covered. He began to mock her.

Lindhout said her captors lost patience and separated her from Brennan. Then she began to sexually abuse and rape her. She is pictured here in 2011. Source: Getty ImagesLindhout said her captors lost patience and separated her from Brennan. Then she began to sexually abuse and rape her. She is pictured here in 2011. Source: Getty Images

Lindhout said her captors lost patience and separated her from Brennan. Then she began to sexually abuse and rape her. She is pictured here in 2011. Source: Getty Images

“How does it feel to know you’re going to die?” he asked her in the car.

The group made the Canadian woman kneel under the tree, pulled her hair back and put a knife to her throat. Lindhout said the couple had been threatened with beheading in the past if the money was not paid.

“When the knife blade was pressed to my throat, I was firmly convinced that this was how I was going to die,” she said.

The group then discussed the matter. Lindhout had 30 seconds, her last chance, to convince her mother to pay the ransom within seven days or she would be beheaded.

She was given a phone and called her mother in tears. Lindhout told her that if the money was not returned to her captors within a week, she would die.

40-year-old Somali man Ali Omar Ader, also known as Adam, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June. Source: AAP40-year-old Somali man Ali Omar Ader, also known as Adam, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June. Source: AAP

40-year-old Somali man Ali Omar Ader, also known as Adam, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June. Source: AAP

The money never arrived and the kidnappers threatened to hand Lindhout and Brennan over to another gang.

The couple were driven for hours and paraded before 40 Somali men with weapons. One of them gave the journalist a phone – her family and Brennan’s had organized a group to rescue her.

Lasting scars and justice

But the emotional trauma took its toll on Lindhout, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety after the 15-month ordeal.

The 37-year-old said that because of her fear of the dark, she had to sleep with the light on for a year.

Loud noises and tight spaces were also triggers.

She also had to confront Adam, the man who asked Lindhout’s family for ransom, on the witness stand. Canadian police found him and she gave a victim impact statement in court.

Lindhout told the court in May that he still wakes up screaming, CBC reported.

“For years … I could not believe that I was free and was often convinced that I was dreaming and that I would wake up again in captivity with chains on my ankles in a dark room,” she told the court.

But the whole experience taught her “a lot about survival and resilience and the incredible strength and determination of the human spirit.”

Adam, 40-year-old Somali national Ali Omar Ader, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June.

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or someone you care about, seek support and information on Lifeline 13 11 14, Mensline 1300 789 978 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.