True Crime

Aussie’s hell – kidnapped for my parent’s life savings

'We were loaded into a truck with gunmen'
Amanda and me with our kidnappers

When Nigel and his colleague Amanda were kidnapped on a work trip, it was the beginning of a nightmare.

Here, Nigel Brennan, 46, tells the story in his own words.

A beer in one hand, turning sausages on the barbecue with the other, I was in my element.

My mum, Heather, and dad, Geoff, were chatting away to a group of my mates, and my two brothers and sister were around somewhere. The sun was shining and I felt so happy. Then, suddenly I woke up and the reality hit me like a punch in the guts.

Shifting on the dusty floor, everything flooded back, more painfully than before. I wasn’t at home in Australia. I was locked in a cell in Africa.

A photojournalist, I’d travelled to Somalia to take pictures of the war-torn country, alongside my colleague, Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian journalist.

But four days in, we’d been taken by a group of men armed with machine guns and roughly transported to various locations before being held captive in a derelict house.

In broken English, they told us this was our fate until our families paid millions of dollars in ransom.

Now, it had been four months. I’d fallen into depression and the flashbacks of my old life were torture.

‘We have to try and get out,’ I whispered through the window to Amanda in the cell next door. So we hatched a basic plan. I’d create an escape route via the bathroom window while she kept watch.

Chipping away at the mortar around the bars in the window, I’d loosen them enough to be removed, then place them back so that no-one would notice.

Neither of us knew what would happen if we got away.  I refuse to sit here and die though, I thought, twitches of my old self sparking back.

Amanda and me with our kidnappers

When our escape route was ready, we waited until midday prayers. As the call rang out from the local mosque we crept along the corridor, into the bathroom.

Squeezing through the window, my elation at being free was short-lived as the kid next door spotted us and started screaming in Somali.

Blind fear propelled us both as we ran through the streets followed by two of our captors. Bursting into the local mosque I thought for a moment we might be safe. ‘Help us!’ I cried.  But then in came our captors brandishing guns, soon followed by the head guys.

One grabbed Amanda by the feet and started dragging her out. There was screaming and resistance until she was gone.

Hearing a gun shot outside, my stomach lurched. When they came for me there was nothing I could do. I wish I could tell Mum and Dad I love them one last time, I thought. But instead of shooting me, they hauled me into a waiting car. To my complete surprise Amanda was sitting in it too. Alive!

‘That was intense,’ she half smiled at me. It was probably the last time either of us smiled over the next 11 months.

The brutality our captors handed out trebled. Shackled and chained to the wall, we were beaten and almost starved.

I spent hours hearing Amanda screaming as she was tortured and raped in the next cell. ‘We’ll kill you if you run again,’ I was told.

Sometimes, when we were moved around, I’d catch glimpses into my kidnappers’ lives. Seeing names and numbers flash up on their mobile phone screens, I memorised them.I also spied one had travelled to Germany.

Then one day, 15 months after we’d been taken hostage, we were loaded into a truck filled with masked gunmen. I was edgy and emotional, terrified about what was going to happen next. ‘Why are you upset? You’re free,’ one said.

Amanda Lindhout

Our families, along with a private negotiator had worked with the kidnappers to get us out, handing them around $600,000.

A day later I was with Mum in Nairobi. Ten days after that, I was touching down in Sydney. It was totally surreal and I often felt like I must be dreaming again. One day I was in the shower. As the warm water soaked my battered body, I was convinced I’d wake up and be back there.

Gasping for breath, I realised I was having a panic attack. I hate what those men have done to me, I thought.

But as the months and years went by, my emotions changed. The hatred was only harming me.

Deciding to move forward, I met my partner, Allana and in 2016 we welcomed a son, Rumi. I also wrote a book about my experience and spent time public speaking.

At the same time, Canadian police were conducting an intricate undercover operation to lure one of our kidnappers to Canada, where he was arrested.I’d passed on the names and phone numbers I’d memorised and they’d been used to help find him.

Alanna and myself on the day of our Love party.

Last year, my evidence helped convict Ali Omar Ader, 40, of hostage-taking, for his role as a negotiator.

And in June, he was sentenced to 15 years in a Canadian jail. He’s likely to be the only kidnapper to face justice.

Ali Omar Ader

Amanda and I haven’t spoken for seven years, having taken different paths since our ordeal. But our victim impact statements both spoke of forgiveness.To forgive is the most powerful thing to do, I’d written in mine. Forgiveness is what keeps humanity moving forwards. I’ve chosen to see my trauma as having taught me about myself and being a gift. I’ve come out of it a better person.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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