Tue, May 08, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Swiss ex-hostages describe ordeal as Taliban detainees

AFP, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Two Swiss former hostages who escaped their Taliban captors in March after eight months in a Pakistani tribal zone told a newspaper on Sunday of their ordeal, giving a rare glimpse into the torn region.

As well as providing the first details of their escape, the couple painted a depressing picture of life in captivity where their guards spent hours watching -suicide-attack videos and fantasized about getting blown up by US drones.

Olivier David Och, 32, and Daniela Widmer, 29, were abducted on July 1 while on holiday in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. They were returning by road from a trip to India, despite Swiss government warnings about the risk of kidnapping, when they were seized by gunmen.

SORT OF PRISON

They said they spent months in a “sort of prison” near the market town of Miranshah, in North Waziristan.

“For months, we never saw a woman or child, just our four guards,” Widmer told Swiss daily newspaper Le Matin.

“They seemed really sick, like they were dead inside, and wore explosive belts,” she said.

Och, a police officer from Bern, said the Pakistani army staged a full-on attack the night of Nov. 7, pummeling Taliban positions with artillery fire and strafing nearby houses from helicopters.

Och and Widmer said their captors began panicking and eventually made the prisoners wear burkas and then took them to a farm belonging to a Taliban member known as Lala. They stayed on Lala’s farm for the rest of their captivity.

“You could hear the drones all the time,” Widmer said. “By day, they’d fly high and sounded like lawnmowers. At night, they flew lower and you could hear them rumble.”

Conditions on the farm were better and the guards were not as vigilant. The couple stayed with Lala’s family, including his wife, stepdaughter and six children.

“We ate the same as the family — unleavened bread, five or six potatoes with oil and salt,” said Och, who lost 22kg in captivity.

THE BIG BOSS

Every two weeks they were visited by Lala’s boss, who “figured high on the US list of people to kill. He slept in our room near Lala — the drones could have picked him off at any time,” Och said.

This senior Taliban member told them of the state of negotiations and that the insurgent group were demanding a ransom of US$50 million.

“We knew no one would pay that much,” Och told the newspaper.

So they decided to try to escape. They stole two grenades and ran into the night.

“Better to die fighting,” Och said. “If they’d followed us, we’d have used them.”

They wandered lost for hours before finding a Pakistani military checkpoint. They said their ordeal did not end then and they were subjected to “painful episodes” they did not discuss.

At the time of their escape, the events leading up to their sudden freedom were somewhat mysterious, with some observers questioning whether the Swiss government had paid a ransom, a claim Switzerland denied.

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