NAIROBI, Kenya (AFP) — British hostage Judith Tebbutt was released yesterday in Somalia, six months after she was kidnapped by gunmen who killed her husband. She said she had endured "hard psychological moments" in captivity.
Tebbutt, 57, looking thin but in good spirits, was flown to Nairobi aboard a small aircraft shortly after her release in the Addado region of northeastern Somalia, praising her son for helping secure her freedom.
"I am of course hugely relieved to at last be free, and overjoyed to be reunited with my son Ollie," she said in statement issued by the British embassy in Nairobi after her safe arrival in the Kenyan capital.
"This however is a time when my joy at being safe again is overwhelmed by my immense grief" for the "devastating loss" of her husband David, she added.
A ransom of $1.2 million was paid after negotiations involving British citizens of Somali origin, said Daud Ali, an Addado resident close to the mediators.
Mohamud Ibrahim, a community elder, said negotiations started shortly after Tebbutt's kidnapping on September 11 last year while on holiday in Kenya with her husband, and "expenses incurred during the captivity were very high."
Her son Oliver has declined to comment, and Tebbutt appealed for privacy to allow her and family members time to "come to terms with the events of the last six months".
Video footage showed Tebbutt, dressed in the flowing robes and coloured headscarf commonly worn by Somali women, being led towards a small aircraft before taking off for Kenya.
"There were some very hard psychological moments," she told Britain's ITV, her voice faltering, "but I got through it."
Tebbutt was snatched from a remote Kenyan beach resort near the Somali border by assailants who shot dead her husband in a late-night raid.
For the first two weeks of her captivity, she did not know her husband had been killed, until her son broke the news to her by telephone.
"I just assumed he was alive but then my son told me he died, it was difficult," she said. "Seven months is a long time and... the circumstances, with my husband passing away, made it harder."
In a separate ITV interview filmed in the days before her release and broadcast yesterday, Tebbutt said she was in good health and was not mistreated, receiving medication the three times she had fallen sick.
"My condition is good as far as I know. I feel fine. I've had absolutely no torture whatsoever. In fact, I've been made to feel as comfortable as possible by the pirates that are holding me."
Ibrahim, the community elder, said local people in Addado had been sympathetic to Tebbutt "because she lost her husband and suffered too much at the hands of her abductors".
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was not government policy to pay ransoms "and we do not facilitate concessions to hostage-takers."
Asked whether officials had advised the family not to pay a ransom, he replied: "All I can say is that we have been in close contact throughout."
Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "delighted" at her release but expressed condolences over the killing of her husband.
Pirates in the region also hold hundreds of hostages seized from ships in the Indian Ocean, and have in the past demanded, and received, multi-million dollar ransoms for the release of captives and of boats.
Tebbutt was held in the same lawless region notorious for its pirate gangs as Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple seized from their yacht in 2009 and held for a year.
Rachel Chandler, speaking on the BBC, said she felt "relief and happiness" for Tebbutt, offering her reassurance that it is possible to "pick up the pieces of your life and... live a normal a life again."
In January, US special forces swooped on a pirate lair to rescue an American woman and a Danish man who had been kidnapped while working for a demining aid agency.
The Tebbutts were the only guests at the upmarket Kiwayu Safari Village, just 25 miles from the Somali border, when they were abducted from their room on the first night of their holiday.
A Kenyan court in September charged a resort night watchman with aggravated robbery for the killing of David Tebbutt and kidnapping with intent to murder his wife. The man denied the accusations and the trial continues.
A French woman, Marie Dedieu, kidnapped from the same coastal area three weeks later, died in captivity.
In October, gunmen captured two Spanish aid workers from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, who are believed to be still held in Somalia.
The spate of attacks prompted Kenya to send troops and tanks into southern Somalia in October.