NEWS

Rescued Canadians recall Kenya kidnap ordeal

07/04/2012 06:53 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT
Two Canadians who were kidnapped from a refugee camp in Kenya by armed gunmen and taken to Somalia before being rescued say the attack happened suddenly with bullets fired, lots of confusion and some aid workers being ordered into another vehicle.

Steven Dennis, 37, of Toronto, and Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, 38, from Gatineau, Que., were among four aid workers from the Norwegian Refugee Council captured at gunpoint from the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya on June 29. They were held for three days before being rescued.

"They came with guns. They started rounding up people, pushed one into our car, and they got in the car," Sadazai told The Canadian Press from Nairobi, where the freed hostages are now resting.

"It was five minutes of shock."

The group's driver was shot and pulled from the car and it was only later Sadazai found out he'd been killed.

They were driven out of the camp, located about 100 kilometres west of the Kenya-Somalia border, and then forced to walk nine hours each night and sleep and hide during the days.

The hostages quickly learned that their abductors didn't plan to kill them, they just wanted money, Dennis said Wednesday.

He says his big feet and big wallet helped him escape injury and survive until he and the other hostages could be rescued.

He says there was a lot of confusion and gunfire when the aid convoy of two cars was attacked.One of the bullets grazed his front pocket where he always keeps his wallet. He told his parents, Peter and Carol-Ann Dennis, in a telephone call from Nairobi that his credit card saved him. He was left with just a bruise.

After being released, Dennis learned that trackers had followed his footprints in order for military officers from Kenya and Somalia to carry out a daring rescue mission 40 kilometres inside Somalia's border that saw one Somali gunman shot to death and the hostages freed.

"Because he's very tall, he's 6-5" and has big shoes and big feet and he said later on that he found out that the tracking was done very easily because they see these big feet and these little feet of the other aid workers," Carol-Ann Dennis told CBC News.

Dennis had only worked for the Norwegian Refugee Council for the past year in Kenya, but had a lengthy background in humanitarian work with other agencies, including Doctors Without Borders.

He says all of the other workers captured were experienced aid workers who knew what to do in a kidnapping situation. He said their captors showed them respect during their time in captivity.

"The kidnappers were telling us 'no problem,'" he says. "We heard that a lot."

Sadazai said her crisis training helped her get through the ordeal.

"Mentally, you are in some ways prepared," she said. "As aid workers, we do know that there is a risk always and we are in areas that are high risk — this is something that happens and you have to work with it."

She says she thought it might be weeks, or months, before the situation would be resolved.

Dennis' parents said they were appreciative of the support they received while their son was being held captive from the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Canadian government.

"[The government] did a lot more than just reach out to us. But they want to keep a low profile, they don't want the bad guys to know what they're doing and that sort of thing but … we'll pay our taxes a lot more happily in the future than we have in the past. They were outstanding," said Peter Dennis.

He has not been told when his son might return to Canada, but his mother has a plan for when he does.

She says she wants to "hug him forever."

Sadazai, who is married, said she plans to take 10 days to visit her parents in Pakistan before returning to continue her work with the Norwegian Refugee Council at the Dadaab camp, home to about 460,000 refugees.

"It hasn't changed any of my plans," she said of the kidnapping. "I'm still committed."

Also kidnapped and rescued were Norwegian Astrid Sehl, 33, and Glenn Costes, 40, a Filipino, who was shot and injured during the initial kidnapping.

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