26/08/09

BBC NEWS

A French security adviser seized by Islamist militants in Somalia has told the BBC how he escaped from his captors without a struggle while they slept.

Marc Aubriere was kidnapped from a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu, along with a colleague last month.

He told the BBC Somali Service that after fleeing his Hizbul-Islam captors he walked for five hours until he reached the presidential palace.

French foreign ministry officials say the second hostage is still being held.

I’m happy and I will soon see my family

Marc Aubriere

French agent

The pair were part of a team who were in the country to train troops from the UN-backed interim government, which is battling Islamist rebels for control of the country.

Mr Aubriere described his immense relief at being free.

“Of course I feel better than one day ago. Yes I feel very well. I’m happy and I will soon see my family,” he said.

He said he had been well-treated and well-fed by his captors from the hard-line Islamist group Hizbul-Islam.

But he said was worried about his colleague, who the BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says is being held by another Islamist faction, al-Shabab.

‘Without violence’

Earlier reports said Mr Aubriere killed three militants as he fled, but he denied the claims.

“I escaped at midnight last night. The guards were very tired and sleepy. I didn’t kill anyone or injure anyone while escaping,” Mr Aubriere said.

France’s foreign ministry also denied any violence was used and other reports that he had been freed after a ransom was paid.

map showing areas under Islamist control

“Despite certain allegations and rumours, this happened without violence and France did not pay a ransom,” spokesman Eric Chevallier told reporters.

Al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam control much of southern Somalia, but analysts say al-Shabab is known for being the more radical of the two groups.

Al-Shabab fighters care little for their public image and they have carried out killings on camera.

Both groups are said to have links to al-Qaeda and have been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was sworn in as president in January after UN-brokered peace talks.

He promised to introduce Sharia law but the hardliners accuse him of being a Western stooge.