MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A British tourist snatched by Somali gunmen from a resort island in Kenya was freed on Wednesday after more than six months in captivity, Britain’s Foreign Office said.
Judith Tebbutt was taken in September. Gunmen killed her husband, David Tebbutt, during the attack. But the kidnapped woman told BBC that she did not know of her husband’s death until two weeks after her capture.
“I just assumed he was alive,” she said. Her son told her of the killing. “That was difficult,” she said.
Tebbutt told Britain’s ITV News she was relieved to be released after such a long time in captivity. She said she is in good health and slept well during the kidnapping. She got sick three times but was given medication and healed each time.
She said her captors made her “feel as comfortable as possible.”
“The circumstances — with my husband passing away — made it harder,” she told ITV. “I’m 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.”
An official with the Somali militia Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama who asked not to be named said a ransom was paid to pirates for Tebbutt’s release. No figure was given. Pirates have long earned multimillion dollar ransoms for taking ships and crew hostage. Families of individual hostages or hostage families have reportedly paid far less.
Britain’s Foreign Office said: “Our priority now is to get her to a place of safety.” Tebbutt was expected to fly to Kenya on Wednesday.
“We are so pleased to hear of her release. The prime minister was actively engaged in and pressured elders for negotiations to release her,” said Abdirahman Omar Osman, the Somalia government spokesman.
Osman declined to comment on reports of a ransom.
The attack on the Tebbutt family came during a string of assault and kidnappings by Somali gunmen near the coastal resort town of Lamu. Kenya’s military cited those attacks as the reason it sent troops into Somalia to attack al-Shabab militants in October.
Gunmen entered the Tebbutts’ resort room easily on the night of Sept. 10 — their resort door was only a piece of colorful cloth. Police believed that David Tebbutt resisted and was shot. The Kiwayu Safari Village resort is 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Lamu. It consists of 18 luxury cottages spread along a private beach.
In October 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, U.S. 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 and the two hostages were rescued.
Pirates still hold an American hostage taken in January. Other hostages held in Somalia include two Spanish aid workers seized in neighboring 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 but hoped her situation could shed light on all the captive sailors.
“Her release has highlighted the fact that the media spotlight is firmly on kidnapped civilians rather than any of the 233 working seafarers who are currently in captivity and have been so many months,” he said. “Many of them are kept in appalling conditions while slow ransom negotiations with shipping insurers take place. Many of their families are just far too poor to pay any kind of random.”