British hostage tastes freedom after seven months ordeal in Somalia
British hostage Judith Tebbutt, kidnapped in Kenya over six months ago by gunmen who killed her husband, said Wednesday she was "happy" after she was released in Somalia to be flown to Nairobi.
Tebbutt, 57, was taken on September 11 from a remote Kenyan beach resort near the Somali border by assailants who shot dead her husband David in a late-night raid.
"I am just happy to be released and I'm looking forward to seeing my son who successfully secured my release. I don't know how he did it, but he did. Which is great," she told Britain's ITV news in Somalia.
"Seven months is a long time and ... the circumstances, with my husband passing away, made it harder," said Tebbutt.
The Foreign Office in London confirmed the release, saying the "priority now is to get her to a place of safety."
Video footage on the BBC showed a thin-looking but apparently cheerful Tebbutt, dressed in the flowing robes and coloured headscarf commonly worn by Somali women.
In an interview with ITV News filmed days before her release and broadcast Wednesday, Tebbutt said she was in good health.
"I sleep very well here," she said. "My condition is good as far as I know. I feel fine. I've had absolutely no torture whatsoever. In fact, I've been made to feel as comfortable as possible by the pirates that are holding me."
She was released in the Addado region, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Ethiopian border and about 500 kilometres northeast of Somalia's capital Mogadishu.
Abdiwali Ahmed, an Addado resident, said Tebbutt left Somalia Wednesday on a small airplane bound for the Kenyan capital Nairobi with three other people.
Tebbutt was held by gunmen in the same lawless region notorious for its pirate gangs who held Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple seized from their yacht in 2009 and held for a year.
"The people in Addado and the surrounding areas pushed the local leaders to do something about the hostage. I heard that since the abduction, she was held by three different groups," said Abdullahi Yasin, a driver in Addado.
Security was beefed up in the region after US Special Forces swooped in by helicopter on a night raid in January to rescue an American woman and a Danish man working for a demining aid agency in the area.
Pirates in the region also hold hundreds of hostages seized from ships in the Indian Ocean, and have in the past demanded multi-million dollar ransoms for the release of captives and of boats.
Few, if any hostages, are released without ransom, and local elder Mohamud Ibrahim said negotiations had been ongoing since Tebbutt's capture, adding that "expenses incurred during the captivity were very high."
"Community elders and civil society groups have been active in order to resolve the matter," Ibrahim said.
"The people in Addado were sympathetic to the hostage because she lost her husband and suffered too much at the hands of her abductors," he added.
The Tebbutts, from the town of Bishop's Stortford in southeastern England, were attacked in their room at night. They were the only guests at the upmarket Kiwayu Safari Village, some 40 kilometres from the Somali border.
A Kenyan court in September charged a resort nightwatchman with robbery with violence for the killing of David and kidnapping with intention to murder his wife Judith. The man denied the accusations and the trial continues.
A French woman, Marie Dedieu, kidnapped from the same coastal area three weeks later, died in captivity.
In October, gunmen captured two Spanish aid workers from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, who are believed to be still held in Somalia.
The spate of attacks prompted Kenya to send troops and tanks into southern Somalia in October to attack the Al-Qaeda allied Shebab insurgents.
Kenyan army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said Tebbutt's release was "very good news."
The extremist Shebab, who control large parts of southern and central Somalia, deny involvement in the kidnappings, but have admitted abducting Kenyan officials they call prisoners of war.