(D.M.N ) – A journalist who was kidnapped in Somalia and tortured and raped for 15 months was on the verge of taking her own life to bring the horrific ordeal to an end.
But Amanda Lindhout decided not to kill herself when she spotted a bird hopping around in the morning sunshine just two months before she was finally released.
The Canadian says she believes the bird was a “messenger” telling her to “hold on” as she went through hell in the war-torn country.
Ms Lindhout and her then-boyfriend Nigel Brennan were just three days into their trip to Somalia when they were abducted by armed men who demanded a $2.5million ransom for each of them.
The freelance journalist, who was 26 at the time, and Mr Brennan, a photographer from Australia, were beaten and starved as they were kept chained in tiny, dark rooms for 15 months.
Ms Lindhout was repeatedly raped after the pair were put in separate rooms, and the abuse and suffering left her contemplating suicide.
She told Andrew Denton of Australia’s Channel 7: “I was really getting close to making this decision.
“As the morning sun was coming up… a little bit of movement caught my eye… and there was a bird hopping around in this little bit of light.
“I’d always believed in signs of a messenger, in a way, to hold on.
“And that bird was a messenger.”
She added: “The desire to end my life left me and it never came back and this amazing feeling just flooded through my body, which was determination to survive no matter what, that I would have my freedom again. I would see my family.”
Ms Lindhout and Mr Brennan, who was 36 at the time, were taken hostage in August 2008 as they were driven to an internally displaced people’s camp.
After she was released for ransom in November 2009, Ms Lindhout told the Toronto Star that her kidnappers were Islamic fundamentalists affiliated with the Hizbul-Islam insurgent group.
In June, the man who orchestrated the kidnapping and ransom was jailed for 15 years in Canada after he was lured halfway around the world by undercover police.
Ms Lindhout and Mr Brennan were only meant to be in Somalia for a week.
She had worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, while he didn’t have any war zone experience before travelling to the capital Mogadishu.
Ms Lindhout, now 37, told how they were driving to the camp when – “like something out of a nightmare” – about a dozen men armed with assault rifles jumped out, stopped the car and abducted them.
Their captors moved them from house to house to prevent them from being found.
Ms Lindhout, from Red Deer, Alberta, and Mr Brennan converted to Islam, hoping their abductors would treat them better.
However, the physical and sexual violence never stopped.
One night, Ms Lindhout was driven into the desert where her captors held a knife to her throat and threatened to behead her if she didn’t convince her family to pay a ransom within a week.
During the drive to the desert, a man who had raped her asked her: “How does it feel to know you’re going to die?”
Within weeks, Ms Lindhout and Mr Brennan had managed to escape by jumping out a window and running to a mosque, but they were chased and recaptured.
Ms Lindhout said a woman begged her kidnappers to let the pair go, adding: “She pulled me into her arms and in English she called me her sister.”
But both she and Mr Brennan were dragged out of the mosque and taken back to the rooms where they were being held.
As they were taken away they heard a gunshot inside the mosque, said Ms Lindhout, who doesn’t know what happened to the woman who embraced her.
The couple were finally released, 460 days after they were abducted, when their families paid the seven-figure ransom and begged for their release.
They were handed over to about 40 Somali men with guns, and they were given mobile phones to speak to their families for the first time in more than a year.
Ms Lindhout had no idea what was happening until she held the phone to her ear.
She said: “I’m totally confused and I put it to my ear and my mum’s on the other end and she says to me ‘Amanda, you’re free’.”
In the nine years that have followed, the emotional trauma has taken its toll on Ms Lindhout, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Loud noises and small spaces triggered flashbacks, and she had to sleep with a light on for a year following her release.
In 2010, she set up a foundation to help women and children in Somalia.
Ms Lindhout recently faced the man who orchestrated the kidnapping and ransom as she gave evidence at his trial.
In March, she gave a victim impact statement as was brought to justice.
She told the court that she has been left emotionally crippled, and she still wakes up screaming at night, fearing that her freedom was a dream.
The court heard that she still suffers physically – her digestive system is “compromised” because she was starved for so long – and she has received unwanted advances from men obsessed with “female hostage” sexual scenarios.
In June, Somali national Ali Omar Ader, 40, was sentenced to 15 years in a Canadian prison.
Both Ms Lindhout and Mr Brennan have since published memoirs about their experiences in captivity and their freedom. The pair are no longer believed to be in touch.