Kidnap ordeal: Aus under fire

2009-11-27 11:38

Sydney - The Australian government was Friday accused of mismanaging the rescue of a journalist kidnapped in Somalia by prolonging his capture until a millionaire and a politician helped pay a ransom.

Businessman Dick Smith said the government had been "completely out of its depth" as it tried to release freelance photographer Nigel Brennan, who was held for 15 months along with his Canadian colleague Amanda Lindhout.

"They didn't have any success and the impression I've got is that they were completely out of their depth," he said.

The businessman said the government, which repeatedly told Brennan's family it was official policy not to pay ransoms, should have followed the British approach and employed a private company to manage the matter.

"That's really what should have happened for the Brennans very early on. But unfortunately they weren't given that advice," he said.

Brennan and Lindhout, who left Mogadishu on Thursday, were picked up by unknown gunmen in August 2008 on a road outside Mogadishu as they made their way to a refugee camp for those fleeing violence in the capital.

They have spoken of being tortured and shackled in windowless rooms by their captors during the 15-month ordeal, with Brennan telling his family he had been passing blood and was kept in total isolation for nine months.

Complete fiction

Smith, who described the reported ransom figure of $1m as "complete fiction", said the family had taken over the management of the case in desperation some 11 months after the pair were locked up.

He said the family sold property and held fund-raising "sausage sizzle" barbecues to raise money, while Brennan's father had rung "virtually every billionaire in Australia and just got nowhere".

Greens Senator Bob Brown, who also contributed to the ransom, said Australian authorities had not been in this situation before and unfortunately had learned "the hard way" how to handle it.

He said he decided to help out of sympathy with the families who faced the "appalling prospect that any day they could hear... that their son or their daughter had been shot or had died in captivity".

Brown said while he had wrestled with the idea of handing money over to the kidnappers, he ultimately felt relieved that the pair had been released.

"What do you do? It's an awful dilemma but it's no good tearing one's hair out, one has to make a decision one way or the other. And I decided to get involved," he said.