When your loved one is kidnapped


September 25, 2013

Source: Daily Life

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Nigel Brennan was held hostage in Somalia and later freed after his family paid a randsom. Photo: TIMBAUERPHOTO.COM

In 2008 my brother Nigel was abducted while working in Somalia alongside Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout. I picked up the phone and spoke to the kidnappers when they rang to deliver the first ransom message and so I fell into the role of next of kin negotiator (the NOK). After establishing who I was, and my relationship with Nigel, they demanded $US 1.5 million for his safe release. The situation still seems surreal.

Over time, and with the assistance of some wonderful local Queensland police negotiators, I was actively trained to take the calls. The AFP moved into my parents’ house and I was taught to negotiate with the kidnappers by responding to a series of ‘what if‘ mock phone calls in anticipation of a real call from the kidnappers.

Initially I was fearful of the calls coming in, lest I say something wrong or hear something horrible happen to Nigel. Dealing with the situation affected my home life and all social engagements. From the kids’ soccer parties or going out to dinner, everything revolved around time zone differences with Somalia.

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Footage of Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian freelance photographer Nigel Brennan, the two foreign journalists kidnapped near Somalia’s capital. Screened on the Arabic Al Jazeera news service.

As the AFP and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) increased their negotiations, they decreased my contact with the kidnappers and, in turn, Nigel. The AFP implemented a strategy of deliberately not talking to the kidnappers and we were not allowed to be involved in this decision.

After a while, the authorities took phone duties off me all together. I had no contact at all anymore with either Nigel or the kidnappers. We became desperate to hear Nigel’s voice to get any proof of life. No matter how awful the calls had been, at least we knew he was alive when we were receiving them. ‘Was he alive?’ was the constant unknown that hung over everything I did.

Friends cautioned me over the obsessive behavior that came with trying to get Nigel home. They were justified –Nigel was the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep and the first think I thought of when I woke up.

It had a huge impact on my relationship with my husband as I was effectively working full time on getting Nigel home. My husband had to be parent, home keeper and breadwinner all in one. I really was an absentee parent in my children’s lives at this stage and I’m very fortunate that they love Nigel dearly and could understand why it took my all.

The Australian government has a strict no ransom policy, though if a family has the means, they will negotiate on your behalf – though they refuse to allow you to offer any more than US$250,000.

We had raised half a million dollars to contribute ourselves when the government told us that they could no longer assist us if we were willing to provide that amount as a ransom. This news came 11 long months into Nigel’s ordeal.

Despite the government’s assurances they were doing all they could, other captives in Somalia that had been taken later than Nigel were being released, including Nigel’s Somalia colleagues.

After tracking down a phone number through friends of friends I spoke to one of the released kidnap victims and discovered there was an alternative to government channels – there were international risk management companies that specialised in kidnap and ransom.

My family members launched themselves into trying to find a company that would help us and even though the government actually uses these companies themselves, they were not forthcoming with names. After some long late night international calls we found some one who we thought could pull it off.

My sister-in-law and I flew to Canada to see him and try to get the Canadian family to come on board, as you cannot only get one kidnap victim out at a time – it’s an almost certain death penalty for the one left behind.

During our meeting John (our kidnap and ransom specialist) told us the average length of a kidnapping is three months. By this point, Nigel had been captive for almost four times this length of time. He suspected ours might take a little bit longer as we were in effect starting from scratch and had been affected by considerable government ‘noise’.

The change in direction was profound. Yes, we were paying a ransom, but for the first time there was a feeling of control. I was back to negotiating directly with the kidnappers and not feeling as worried about the calls as I had been initially.

Even when we received a torture phone call, John had helped us to prepare for the worst. He had mapped out a plan as to how the negotiations would work and for the first time since the whole ordeal began, things actually started working to plan.

After four months with John on board, including a trip to Nairobi for final negotiations and one failed recue attempt where we flew the extraction team and money in and back out again, Nigel was finally freed. Skinny, bearded and possibly changed forever – but free.

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Nicky Bonney and her brother Nigel Brennan are guests on SBS’s Insight program on SBS ONE which explores what happens when Australians are kidnapped overseas. Host Jenny Brockie hears from those who have been held hostage, as well as families and kidnap and ransom negotiators who discuss the delicate process of hostage negotiation and debate the Australian Government’s ‘no ransom’ policy.

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Kidnapping – Reporters in Yemen seen as high-value targets


August 7 , 2013

Source: Al Jazeera

A video confirming fears that a Dutch couple had been kidnapped in Yemen has increased concerns about the risks facing journalists in the country

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Reporters in Yemen seen as high-value targets

A video confirming fears that a Dutch couple had been kidnapped in Yemen has increased concerns about the risks facing journalists in the country.

Evidence that Dutch freelance journalist Judith Spiegel and her husband Boudewijn Berendsen had been seized was posted on YouTube in mid-July.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is warning that reporters are now seen as “high-value targets” in a wave of kidnapping that has plagued the country, while Reporters Without Borders has voiced alarm at the growing threat to media staff.

In the the minute-and-a-half video, Spiegel and Berendsen – missing since June – appear scared and tearful as they plead for help.

“My name is Boudewijn Berendsen…”

“And my name is Judith Spiegel. We are kidnapped, here in Yemen. We have a huge problem,” they tell the camera.

Negotiations to secure their release are not proceeding well, Spiegel adds: “So far, nothing has been done. No reaction, no results. These people are armed. If there’s no solution, they will kill us.”

It remains unclear who is holding the couple, who claim on the video that their captors were demanding progress within 10 days, but do not specify what their demands are.

Their abductors’ deadline has since expired.

Premonition

The freelance journalist and stringer for multiple Dutch media knew she risked kidnap, writing in a column for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad in March: “When I’m lying awake at night, I realise that I’m nowhere safe in this country…

“The idea of having to spend months with these extremists troubles me, and I don’t want to appear in a movie with a Kalashnikov pointed to my head, as happened to Dominik [Neubauer, an Austrian student who appeared in a video in February 2013], ” she wrote.

Soon after Spiegel and Berendsen were reported missing, a Sanaa police official told Yemeni press it was likely they had been kidnapped .

Both the Yemeni and Dutch government remain tight-lipped about the case, and the journalist’s parents have released few details about what is known.

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch foreign affairs minister, posted on his Facebook page a short statement claiming that victims of abduction always have the ministry’s full attention and that it was important to remain calm.

In a a short written statement, Spiegel’s parents said they knew the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was dealing with the case.

“We realise it’s [the ministry’s] policy that no information is released, and that when it does, it’ll be us knowing first.

“Of course, we find this very difficult, but our only priority is that Judith and Boudewijn are released as soon as possible and are in safety.”

The Yemeni human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman called on her Facebook page for the country’s president and prime minister to direct their personal attention towards efforts to effect the pair’s release.

“If not for Judith and her husband, for the sake of the reputation of Yemen that’s worsening with each passing day this couple is kidnapped,” she wrote.

Wave of kidnapping

Anthropologist Marina de Regt, who has worked and lived in Yemen and knows Spiegel, told Al Jazeera that kidnapping was now a prominent feature of life in the country where an old “tradition” has grown into a lucrative business.

“The situation has become increasingly dangerous since the Arab Spring in 2011,” said de Regt.

Recent victims include a Finnish couple and Neubauer, kidnapped by al-Qaeda fighters then freed four months later. A week ago, an Iranian embassy employee was seized by gunmen.

“It’s a result of the Yemeni government, not being able to hold on to its people, which is devastating for the country,” explained de Regt.

“The Netherlands and Yemen have a very good relationship, and are probably working very closely to solve this. Still, every case differs… [and that is] what makes it so difficult to negotiate.”

The CPJ argues that “disgruntled tribesmen have resorted to abductions to pressure the government to release imprisoned family members and extort political and financial compensation. Some captives have been sold to, or abducted by, al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants”.

Quirine Eijkman, a researcher at the Counterterrorism Centre of Leiden University , told Al Jazeera: “Over the past two years, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has grown stronger, making Yemen a more fragile country than it already was.

“It’s not for nothing that the United States started employing drone strikes in Yemen. Although I believe that because of these drone attacks, bad sentiment and anger towards the West has grown.”

Reporters Without Borders condemned the abduction, and media outlets have expressed their concern for Spiegel and Boudewijn and are following the case closely.

Rebecca Murray, a journalist who has worked for Al Jazeera from Yemen, praised her Dutch colleague: “[Judith] is one of the few foreigners here that has ventured beyond compound walls and the sensational headlines, to show the world what Yemen and Yemenis are really like, and the daily hardships they face.”

Murray stressed that all the Yemenis she knows – including local journalists – were outraged at the kidnapping.

“There is always a nagging fear you could be abducted on your way to or from the field,” she said.

“We are definitely watching each others’ backs more closely, evaluating risk and tightening security precautions. But as journalists, we still need to go out to get the real story.”

 

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