Four hundred and sixty days of abuse, starvation and torture couldn’t rob Amanda Lindhout of her idealism. The Canadian journalist, who was abducted in 2008 while freelancing in Somalia, has preached forgiveness and campaigned for development in Somalia as a public speaker since she was released in 2009.
Ms. Lindhout’s captors were never apprehended after a private ransom deal secured her release. Now, almost six years later, the RCMP announced on Friday – Ms. Lindhout’s 34th birthday – that Ali Omar Ader had been arrested in connection with the kidnapping. The Somali native had been in Canada “for a few days,” according to RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia.
A decade ago, Ms. Lindhout quit her job as a cocktail waitress in Calgary to travel around the globe. She trekked through South America, Bangladesh, Kabul and Ethiopia before arriving in Somalia, which is a notoriously dangerous place for foreigners. Then a freelance journalist writing columns for the Red Deer Advocate, Ms. Lindhout and Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan arrived in the country, which was ravaged by war and famine, in 2008.
Four days later, the pair were kidnapped along with their translator, Somali reporter Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, by teenaged gunmen while they were on the road to visit a refugee camp. Mr. Elmi was separated from the other two and released 10 months before Ms. Lindhout and Mr. Brennan’s families paid for their release.
They were held in separate rooms in rough conditions, receiving little food and suffering abuse for 15 months. In her bestselling book A House in the Sky, co-written with New York Times Magazine contributor Sara Corbett, Ms. Lindhout describes in harrowing detail the multiple times she was beaten, sexually assaulted and tied up with her arms and legs bound tightly behind her back.
Daydreams about Stanley Park in Vancouver, food and freedom helped her pass the time and hold on to hope, Ms. Lindhout writes in her book. “I could pass two hours imagining one meal in granular detail, the ecstasy of making an omelette, for example.”
At first, her hatred for “the boys,” as she referred to them in the book, was strong. But her empathy kicked in and Ms. Lindhout chose to change her outlook.
“I strive toward forgiveness and compassion above all the other feelings – anger, hatred, confusion, self-pity – that surface in me,” Ms. Lindhout writes. “I understand that those boys and even the leaders of the group were products of their environment.”
Despite the traumatic memories it held, Ms. Lindhout returned to Somalia in 2011 after founding the Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to support development and female empowerment in the country.
“It’s the place I prayed to leave, and now I’ve chosen to come back,” Ms. Lindhout told The Globe and Mail at the time. She said she had promised herself in captivity, “if I made it out alive, I would do something for Somalia.”