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Somali journalist freed, two foreign reporters still hostage

Somalis flee with their luggage on a pick-up following an escalation of violence in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, Friday, September 28, 2007. Hundreds of families fled the city to outskirts of Mogadishu, where large refugee camps were formed, especially Elasha Biyaha 20km south of Mogadishu.Photo: Associated Press (AP) / Abdurrahman Hersi

Press freedom groups have welcomed the release of a freelance Somali photojournalist and two Somali drivers on Thursday but remain concerned over 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 abducted with their drivers while on their way to visit Elasha refugee camp in Afgoye, roughly 20km outside of the capital, Mogadishu. Local journalists told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (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 programme coordinator, Tom Rhodes. "But we remain gravely concerned about Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan."

“The Somali journalist’s release is obviously good news, but we will feel no relief until the kidnappers have also released the two foreign journalists,” Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “Our concern about their fate is as strong as ever given the growing instability in Mogadishu. All the actors involved should combine their efforts in order to obtain their release as soon as possible.”

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 abducted 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.

Date posted: January 17, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 533