OTTAWA — An emotional Amanda Lindhout recounted the horrors of being kidnapped at gunpoint in Somalia as the trial of one of her alleged hostage-takers got underway.
Lindhout sobbed Thursday upon approaching the witness box to describe her abduction by a gang of armed, masked men nine years ago, the beginning of what she called 460 days of hell.
Lindhout, a freelance journalist from Red Deer, Alta., and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were seized near Mogadishu in August 2008 while working on a story. Both were released in November 2009 in exchange for a ransom payment.
Ali Omar Ader, a 40-year-old Somalian national, has pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge of hostage-taking for his alleged role as a negotiator.
He was arrested by the RCMP in Ottawa in June 2015. It emerged during pre-trial motions last spring that the Mounties had lured Ader to Canada through an elaborate scheme to sign a purported book-publishing deal.
The Crown says Ader admitted to undercover investigators on two occasions that he was the negotiator in the kidnapping and that he was paid $10,000.
Ader sat in the prisoner's box just metres away from Lindhout as she struggled to gain her composure with the help of a support person who sat beside her during the proceedings.
The Crown alleges Ader was known to the hostages as "Adam" and took part in several telephone calls with Lindhout's mother to demand payment for her daughter's release.
Lindhout, 36, told of being introduced to Adam, who was also called "the commander."
He said Allah had put it into his heart to ask for a ransom for the two journalists, Lindhout told the court.
Her mother was earning minimum wage working at a bakery, and her father was on long-term disability. In addition, Canada has a policy of not paying ransoms, prompting Lindhout to tell her captors they might as well kill her now.
Lindhout said Adam asked her: "Are you ready to die?"
A phone message was left for her father demanding $2.5 million.
Trevor Brown, an Ottawa lawyer representing Ader, cross-examined Lindhout with a line of questioning that suggested Adam was not a heavily armed hardcore militant, but an amateur who wore a polo shirt and glasses.
Brown referred to past statements Lindhout had supposedly made about the initial meeting with Adam: that he was so dramatic that it was almost comical.
Lindhout disagreed with the characterization of her remarks, telling the court Adam's question about being "ready to die" had a surreal quality to it that would almost have been comical if it weren't so serious. "It made it all the more real and scary."
At one point, Adam told Lindhout he wanted to marry her — a prospect she found terrifying, she testified. Others also mentioned marriage. "Basically they saw me as a piece of property that they owned."
Lindhout testified she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and beaten while captive. She was moved frequently, spending time in about a dozen different places, often in filthy conditions. In one, rats were "crawling all over my body," she told the court.
Brennan, 45, recounted how he and Lindhout managed to escape briefly five months into their ordeal. They sought sanctuary in a nearby mosque but were swiftly recaptured and kept shackled for the remainder of their captivity.
In one house the two were kept in separate rooms but found ways to communicate by knocking on the wall and leaving clandestine notes in the bathroom "to bolster each other's spirits," he told the court.
Lindhout said that after a year they were not eating regularly, had only dirty water to drink and were "really sick all the time."
In 2009, Lindhout established The Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering leadership in Somalia through educational and community-based programs.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
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