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Kidnapped British woman freed in Somalia

Associated Press
Mar 22, 2012 at 02:41am IST

Somalia: A British tourist freed on Wednesday by Somali pirates after six months in captivity said she did not know for weeks that her husband was killed in the raid on a luxury beach resort on the Kenyan coast.

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

"That was difficult," she said, her head and body cloaked in long gray headscarf with a pink floral print and her face marked by grief.

Kidnapped British woman freed in Somalia

Judith Tebbutt said she did not know for weeks that her husband was killed in the raid on a luxury beach resort on the Kenyan coast.

The 56-year-old Tebbutt was freed Wednesday after pirates were reportedly paid a ransom. David Tebbutt, 58, was killed during the September attack, one of a string of kidnappings by Somali gunmen near the resort town of Lamu, 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.

Tebbutt praised her son's efforts in winning her freedom, telling Britain's ITV News: "I don't know how he did it, but he did, which is great."

British officials declined to go into details about the circumstances of Tebbutt's release, or comment on any ransom demand. But a pirate spokesman said a ransom had been paid and British news reports said her family paid it.

"Our position is that we do not pay ransoms and we do not facilitate concessions to hostage-takers," said a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Pirates have long earned multimillion dollar payoffs for taking ships and crews hostage, though families of individual captives have reportedly paid far less. A member of the Somali militia Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama said a ransom was paid, but did not give a figure.

During her captivity, Tebbutt said she got sick three times but the pirates gave her medication and she recovered. Her captors made her "feel as comfortable as possible," she told ITV.

Gunmen entered the Tebbutts' cottage at the Kiwayu Safari Village resort easily on the night of September 10 - the door was only a piece of colorful cloth. Police believe David Tebbutt resisted and was shot. The Tebbutts were the only tourists staying at the 18-cottage resort, located along a private beach 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Lamu, and the kidnappers spirited Judith Tebbutt away 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, US 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 in the raid that freed the two hostages.

Referring to the Navy SEAL operation, Tebbutt said her captors moved her repeatedly after it occurred.

"That night I was woken up and was moved around," Tebbutt told ITV. "It was very disorientating. To be woken in the middle of the night and moved and you'd stay there for a little while and then you'd move again."

After arriving in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Tebbutt said she was "hugely relieved to at last be free, and overjoyed to be reunited with my son Ollie."

"This, however, is a time when my joy at being safe again is overwhelmed by my immense grief ... following David's passing," she said in a statement. "My family and I now need to grieve properly."

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 was 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.

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