Freelancer freed after 40 days in caves

A freelance photographer who was kidnapped by gunmen in Somalia while on an assignment for the Sunday Telegraph has been released after 40 days in captivity.

Spaniard José Cendon and the newspaper’s British-born chief foreign correspondent, Colin Freeman, with whom he was captured, said they were both “absolutely fine.”

They were seized in the northern Puntland region, where they had been reporting on the recent piracy attacks under the eyes of gunmen who they hired for protection.

But having spoken to the pair, the Telegraph Media Group said it seems their bodyguards betrayed them, as they were abducted en route to board a flight home.

At gunpoint, they were taken to the mountainous area southwest of Bossaso, where they were held in a series of caves, and moved occasionally to avoid detection.

Although they said their captors treated them well, Freeman recalled they were subject to threats of harm - on one occasion a Kalashnikov was cocked to his head.

But the journalists’ captors were not their only concern: at one point, a rival group of gunmen tried to assert a claim to the pair by showering their cave in bullets.

Day-to-day, Freeman said they survived on rice, “tasteless” goat meat and Rothmans, though on Christmas Day they got a treat of three extra cigarettes and pancakes.

They played games of chess with their captors and took part in press-up competitions, while they were also permitted to receive messages from relatives at home.

However, they were forced to walk over rough terrain for several hours more than once - given their captors were mindful of rival gangs or discovery by the authorities.

The circumstances of their release on Sunday January 4 still remain unclear, muddied by conflicting reports of whether or not a ransom was paid to their captors.

Yet it is the authorities the kidnappers were so wary of – in particular, the TMG said in praise, Spain’s ambassador to Kenya who led efforts to secure their release.

Speaking before he boarded a flight to the safety of neighbouring Kenya, Freeman reflected on his diet during his ordeal: “I gave up smoking in 1992 and somehow decided now would be a good time to start up again.”


 

7th January 2009

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