A Somali journalist kidnapped alongside Canadian freelancer Amanda Lindhout last August says he communicated with her daily through sign language during his captivity and she was in good health when he last saw her before his release earlier this year.
Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, who was taken near Mogadishu by gunmen along with 27-year-old Ms. Lindhout and 37-year-old Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan, had previously told reporters that he was blindfolded and immediately separated from the pair, who were being held for ransom, and had no information regarding their whereabouts or well-being.
But Mr. Elmi now says that before being released, he and two Somali colleagues were threatened and instructed on what to say once freed.
"They said to us, 'You have to say these words,' " said Mr. Elmi, who recently fled Somalia for Nairobi. " 'If you say another word, we will damage your family,' they said."
During a recent interview in Nairobi, Mr. Elmi described in detail seeing Ms. Lindhout and Mr. Brennan daily throughout his 146 days of captivity, during which they were moved back and forth between three houses, all within earshot of frequent artillery fire, suggesting they were close to Ethiopian military positions somewhere in Mogadishu.
Though held together with his Somali colleagues in a separate room and not permitted to speak, Mr. Elmi said they quickly established a means of covert communication with Ms. Lindhout.
"Amanda, she was the most brave girl of us five," Mr. Elmi said. "She started the first connection of us. Since we were so afraid to be killed, she started to sign."
Sliding quietly to the edge of the room and sitting near the doorway, they started to converse every day with a few improvised hand signs.
"She said to me, 'Don't worry, we'll go out. Stay strong,' " said Mr. Elmi, gesturing with his hands as he spoke.
Mr. Elmi had worked for two days with Mr. Brennan and Ms. Lindhout. They had videotaped government forces, followed the African Union on a de-mining operation and visited the shelled-out ruins of a colonial-era church.
On the third day, they set out from the Shamo hotel in Mogadishu along a 30- kilometre stretch of sandy road leading west to a town to report on displaced-persons camps in the region.
But that day they left without a security detail, which is normally considered imperative for foreigners travelling even the shortest distance beyond the guarded confines of hotels in Mogadishu.
Mr. Elmi said that arrangements were made through a local fixer for security to meet them along the way. But when their car stopped less than an hour later beside a black 4x4 with tinted windows, the occupants turned out to be the kidnappers.
Ms. Lindhout was being held alone in a room furnished with only a single mattress and was dressed in a traditional Arab robe when Mr. Elmi last saw her before his release Jan. 15.
"The last days I saw Amanda, she was feeling very worried," he said, though she appeared to be in good health and unharmed.