A Norwegian UN employee freed after a nearly two-week-long kidnapping in Yemen said Sunday he had been treated well and that uncertainty had been the worst part of his ordeal.
“This is an experience I would wish on no one. It was traumatic. It was unpredictable. It was not knowing what would happen that was the very worst part,” 34-year-old Gert Danielsen told reporters upon arrival at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport.
But he added: “I didn’t suffer.”
Danielsen, a United Nations Development Programme employee based in Yemen since last February, was snatched from Sanaa on January 14 by armed men aiming to pressure the government to release members of their tribe held for killing four soldiers.
He had just ended a call to wish his father a happy birthday, during which his mother had asked him to be careful not to be kidnapped, when he saw a large SUV coming towards him.
“I didn’t have many seconds to think before a man with a machine gun jumped out,” he said, describing that moment as the worst of the ordeal, and of his life.
He was offered water and food during the several hour-long drive up into the mountains in the restive eastern Marib province, where the tribe is based.
Danielsen said he had been held in a small room with a thin mattress on the floor, but had adequate access to food, clothing, blankets and toiletries.
He was even allowed to keep his phones and make several calls to his employer and family and send unlimited text messages.
Danielsen said he had used his “limited Arabic,” as well as a translator provided to him, to try to connect with his abductors.
His conversations with them led him to believe that they had not been after him personally or had wanted to target the UN or Norway, but that he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I understood that this was just a means to solve their conflict,” he said.
Yemen’s powerful tribes often kidnap foreigners for use as bargaining chips with the authorities. More than 200 foreigners have been abducted over the past 15 years. Almost all were later freed unharmed.
Danielsen said he did not know how his release was negotiated but late Thursday he was suddenly free.
According to a tribal source, the release was secured after the captors received “tribal guarantees to answer their demand” for the freeing of a relative jailed on a criminal conviction.
Danielsen said he planned to return to Yemen, which he described as a “fantastic country with a fantastic, hospitable people,” but first needed time with his family and “time to think.”
“We take a lot of things for granted in this world… Freedom is something you don’t always appreciate until it is gone. I guess that is one of the lessons I’ve learned,” he said.