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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Abductors 'beat' French hostage
Kidnapped French reporter Florence Aubenas
Aubenas's unknown kidnappers made no demands
A French journalist who was held hostage in Iraq for five months says she was beaten by her captors.

Speaking at a new conference in Paris, Florence Aubenas said she was kept blindfolded in a basement cell that measured 4m by 2m (13ft by 6ft).

She said she was beaten after being accused of speaking to a cell mate.

Ms Aubenas was forced out of her car in Baghdad on 5 January, along with her guide, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. They were both freed on 11 June.

Mr Saadi was reunited with his family in Baghdad. Ms Aubenas, who is a senior correspondent for Liberation, was flown home to France.

Long ordeal

Ms Aubenas seemed relaxed and made jokes, but sometimes close to tears as she recounted her ordeal publicly for the first time since her arrival in Paris.

She said she and her guide were kidnapped by five armed men. She was subjected to a mock trial, asked about her political views and then accused of being a spy.

What I can tell you is that I was in a basement cell for five months
Florence Aubenas

Little is publicly known of the identity of the kidnappers, who issued no ransom demands.

Ms Aubenas said they identified themselves to her as members of a Sunni "religious movement".

No-one ever spoke to me about money, she said.

"What I can tell you is that I was in a basement cell for five months." Life in her cell was "long to live through, but short to talk through", she said.

She spent most of her time counting - the steps she took twice a day to the toilet, the number of words she spoke every day.

Eventually she was asked by her captors to say on video that she would be executed in three days.

"I asked the men if it was true. He said: 'No, I swear to you that you won't be.' So then I said I wouldn't do it."

They also asked her to appeal for help to controversial French politician, Didier Julia. "I say I couldn't, I would be ridiculed," she said.

She could laugh about it now, she said, "but that's not how I reacted to it at the time".

Farewell gifts

In an account of her released published in Liberation on Tuesday, she said she and Mr Saadi were led into a room where the guide was told to change into a white tunic, while Ms Aubenas was given a large dress and veil.

"They took out a box in which a number of plastic bags were arranged, like prisoners' belongings," she told the paper.

Florence Aubenas embraces her mother, watched on by her father, left, and French President Jacques Chirac
The reporter was greeted by her parents and the French president

"In one of the them was my watch and earrings, while in another was Hussein's ring and watch. They gave me back my handbag with all my papers, and with my money still in my wallet."

It was then that one of the men guarding the hostages told Ms Aubenas that he had gifts for her.

"They gave me two rings and a bottle of perfume. We had lived crouched down in the pitch black for weeks, but we were given two chairs to sit on. It was the first time I had sat on a chair since 5 January," she said.

Ms Aubenas and Mr Saadi were later bundled blindfolded into a car. Ms Aubenas was told to pretend she was the driver's wife, and to start crying if the car was stopped and anyone talked to her.

"We will say you are depressed," a guard told her.

When the car finally did stop, she said she was pulled from the car and her veil was ripped off by a French security agent.

She was told to run to another car with diplomatic plates, where she was told: " It's over, it's over."


SEE ALSO:
Freed journalist back in France
12 Jun 05 |  Europe
Profile: Florence Aubenas
12 Jun 05 |  Europe
French reporter missing in Iraq
06 Jan 05 |  Middle East
French journalists freed in Iraq
21 Dec 04 |  Middle East


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