Kidnapped British woman freed in Somalia

ABDI GULED Associated Press Published:

MOGADIAHU, Somalia (AP) -- Somali pirates holding a British woman hostage for six months gave her medicine but did not tell Judith Tebbutt they had killed her husband during an attack on their Kenyan beach resort.

Pirates freed Tebbutt on Wednesday after reportedly being paid a ransom. Gunmen killed her husband, David Tebbutt, during the September kidnapping attack, but Tebbutt did not learn of the death for two more weeks.

"I just assumed he was alive," Tebbutt said haltingly in a video broadcast by the BBC, adding that her son told her of the killing.

"That was difficult," she said, her hair covered in a long scarf, her features marked by grief.

Tebbutt said she got sick three times but was given medication and got better each time. She said in a video broadcast by Britain's ITV News that she was relieved to be released and that her captors made her "feel as comfortable as possible."

"I'm looking forward to seeing my son who successfully secured my release," she said. "I don't know how he did it, but he did which is great."

A ransom was paid to pirates for Tebbutt's release, said an official with the Somali militia Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama who asked not to be named. No figure was given. Pirates have long earned multimillion dollar ransoms for taking ships and crew hostage. Families of individual hostages or hostage families have reportedly paid far less.

The attack on the Tebbutts came during a string of assault and kidnappings by Somali gunmen near the resort town of Lamu, on Kenya's coast not far from the Somali border. Kenya's military cited those attacks as the reason it sent troops into Somalia to attack al-Shabab militants in October.

Gunmen entered the Tebbutts' resort room easily on the night of Sept. 10 -- their resort door was only a piece of colorful cloth. Police believe David Tebbutt resisted and was shot. The Kiwayu Safari Village resort, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Lamu, consists of 18 luxury cottages spread along a private beach. The kidnappers spirited away Mrs. Tebbutt in a boat.

A month later, gunmen kidnapped a disabled French woman who lived part-time in Lamu. She died in captivity.

Kidnapping is big business in Somalia, where opportunities to make money are limited.

In January, U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia and hiked to where a criminal gang was holding a 32-year-old American and a 60-year-old Dane kidnapped last October. Nine captors were killed and the two hostages were rescued.

Criminals in Somalia still hold an American taken in January. Other hostages held in Somalia include two Spanish aid workers seized in Kenya, a French military adviser and hundreds of sailors of various nationalities hijacked by pirates at sea.

Rick Blears, a spokesman for Save Our Seafarers, an anti-piracy group, said he welcomed the news of Tebbutt's release and hoped her situation could shed light on all the captive sailors.

"Many of them are kept in appalling conditions while slow ransom negotiations with shipping insurers take place," he said. "Many of their families are just far too poor to pay any kind of random."

Tebbutt joins a list of Europeans kidnapped and released by Somali pirates. A British yachting couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were taken near the Seychelles and held for 388 days, often under brutal conditions. The Johansens -- a Danish family of two parents and three teenage children -- were held for six months.

The Somali government said it is relieved to hear of Tebbutt's release. The minister of information wished her a quick recovery and offered condolences for the loss of her husband.

"The Somali government will assist in any way it can in the capture and the arrest of the kidnappers who murdered her husband and kept her hostage," the minister, Abdulkadir Hussein, said. He also asked the international community to aid Somalia in its fight against extremists.