Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Kidnap reporter 'feared for life'

Colin Freeman
Bodyguards turned on Mr Freeman and his colleague

A British journalist who was held by kidnappers in Somalia for 40 days has told how he feared for his life.

Colin Freeman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You have to summon all of your mental strength to cope with it."

However the 39-year-old said concerns about how his family, girlfriend and colleagues were coping was "far worse".

The Sunday Telegraph's chief foreign correspondent was seized with Spanish photographer Jose Cendon, 34, while in the country to report on piracy.

Mr Freeman, who was born in Edinburgh, said: "We were pretty sure we would get released but you just have to project it to some unspecified time in the future when you know it will happen.

"That was one of the most difficult things."

'Tremendous relief'

Somalia has been torn by civil conflict since 1991 and much of the country is controlled by extreme Islamists.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Piracy off its coast has become an increasing problem for fishing boats, cargo ships and yachts.

Mr Freeman told how he and Mr Cendon were seized on 26 November by bodyguards hired to escort them to the airport in Bossasso and held in mountain caves to the south-west of the city.

Asked if he feared for his life, Mr Freeman said: "Obviously you do in a situation like that.

"However, having said that, they were very keen to keep us alive and as time went on, pretty much from early on but certainly increasingly throughout the time we were there, we established a good rapport with them and to a certain extent, they actually became fairly chatty to us."

At a news conference after his release, Mr Freeman said the kidnappers had threatened to harm them and on one occasion cocked a Kalashnikov rifle at his head.

And writing in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Mr Freeman described the kidnapping as a "bewildering ordeal involving psychological torture, death threats, and Stone Age-style living in a series of mountain caves".

Uncertainty

He wrote: "Far, far worse, however, than the fears for my own well-being were my concerns for my girlfriend, colleagues and family.

"I imagined the awful moment when they would get the call from the paper saying that I was missing, and the appalling stress that a prolonged kidnap would put them through.

"My parents are both in their 60s - even if I eventually got released, something like this could quite easily give one of them a heart attack."

It's just brilliant to be released and to be back and to be able to speak to my family and friends and my girlfriend and everybody else
Colin Freeman

He told Today it had been a "tremendous relief" to be allowed to make phone calls once every five days to a representative who passed on messages to and from his family.

But he added the uncertainty of how long they were to be held was one of the "worst things".

He said: "We had no idea how long we were going to be there... we really just didn't know at all."

He said when one of the gang's leaders announced they were to be released "our hopes shot up at that point but until we were actually out of their clutches it was still a very fraught time".

Mr Freeman said when their release eventually came, he felt "absolutely on top of the world".

He said: "It's just brilliant to be released and to be back and to be able to speak to my family and friends and my girlfriend and everybody else and all my colleagues."

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