Somali journalist freed, two foreign reporters still hostage

New York, January 16, 2009–CPJ welcomes the release of a freelance Somali photojournalist and two Somali drivers on Thursday but remains deeply concerned for the fate of two foreign freelance reporters who have been held since their abduction on August 23, 2008, by unknown gunmen.

Photojournalist Abdifatah Elmi was working as a fixer and translator for Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan when they were kidnapped with their drivers while on their way to visit Elasha refugee camp in Afgoye, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) outside of the capital, Mogadishu. Local journalists told CPJ that one of the drivers is Mahad Isse and the other is known as “Marwali.”

“We are extremely relieved to hear Abdifatah Elmi and the two drivers were released after nearly 150 days in captivity,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “But we remain gravely concerned about Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan.”

According to Elmi’s relatives, he was released at around 6 p.m. in Bakara market with Isse and Marwali. Both Elmi and his relatives said they had nearly given up hope a month ago. “He [Elmi] had this big grin on his face with a long beard–he looked like he had just come out of the jungle,” one relative told CPJ. Despite 146 days in captivity, Elmi was in decent physical condition, relatives added.

Elmi was kept in a room in a separate location from the two foreign journalists and had no knowledge where they are being held, relatives and local journalists said. Elmi and the two drivers were blindfolded when they were abducted and released, and could not identify the kidnappers or where they had been held, according to Agence France-Presse.

Two kidnapped foreign journalists were released earlier this month near the port town of Bossasso in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, CPJ reported. British correspondent for London’s Sunday Telegraph, Colin Freeman, and Jose Cendon, a Spanish freelance photojournalist, were released January 4 after four weeks in captivity.