French agent escapes Somali kidnappers

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The Independent Online

A French security agent kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month said he escaped yesterday while his captors slept, then walked five hours through one of the most dangerous cities in the world to safety at the country's presidential palace.

Marc Aubriere, who was seized along with another agent on 14 July, denied reports that he killed any of his captors during his escape. "The militants who were holding me treated me well, they were giving me nice food," he said before boarding a plane to leave Mogadishu. "I was not harmed. There is no one I have killed or injured while I was escaping."

He said he escaped at midnight when his guards "were tired and sleepy". He said he was "using the starlight to guide me... Mogadishu at night is deserted and all the men that you cross paths with are armed. I was fired upon, I ran and hid and luckily they missed me."

Mr Aubriere and another agent were kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, then split up between the rebel groups al-Shabab and its ally Hizbul-Islam. The second hostage was still being held. "I am very happy but I am worried about my friend who is still held by militants," Mr Aubriere said while being led by the shoulders by Somali security agents.

The two French agents were in the country to train Somali government forces, which are fighting Islamist militia. Militants had said the two would be tried under Islamic law for alleged spying and conspiracy against Islam.

Foreigners rarely travel to Somalia, which is among the most dangerous countries in the world. The country has not had a functioning government for 18 years since clan warlords overthrew a brutal dictator then unleashed their militias on each other. Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. Two foreign journalists – Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan – have been held for a year.

Farhan Asanyo, a Somali military officer, said earlier that Mr Aubriere came up to government soldiers early in the day, identified himself and said he had escaped after killing three of his captors. But a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Eric Chevallier, said the security agent was freed without violence and without any ransom paid. "This was without any violence, contrary to some information that came from Somalia," Mr Chevallier said. "This came without any ransom paid by France."

Abdulkadir Hussein Wehliye, the assistant information secretary of Somalia's presidential palace, said the agent arrived at the palace safely and was "in a good mood".

Mr Chevallier confirmed that Mr Aubriere was already on his way back to France, and that the second hostage was still being detained.

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