Lind­hout’s al­leged kid­nap­per feared setup, court hears

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - JIM BRONSKILL

TTAWA — Amanda Lind­hout’s mother says one of her daugh­ter’s al­leged So­ma­lian ab­duc­tors feared “he was be­ing set up” for a dou­ble-cross as ar­range­ments for a ran­som pay­ment were be­ing fi­nal­ized.

Lorinda Stewart told an On­tario court on Thurs­day that talks with Ali Omar Ader in early Novem­ber 2009 did not go well be­cause Ader sud­denly be­came “an­gry and afraid.”

Lind­hout was a free­lance jour­nal­ist from Red Deer, Alta., when she and Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­pher Nigel Bren­nan were grabbed by masked men near Mogadishu in Au­gust 2008 while work­ing on a story. Both were re­leased in late Novem­ber 2009.

OAder, 40, has pleaded not guilty in On­tario Su­pe­rior Court to hostage-tak­ing. He was ar­rested by the RCMP in Ottawa in June 2015. It emerged dur­ing pre-trial mo­tions last spring that the Moun­ties had lured Ader to Canada through an elab­o­rate scheme to sign a pur­ported book-pub­lish­ing deal.

The Crown says Ader ad­mit­ted to un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tors on two oc­ca­sions that he was the ne­go­tia­tor in the kid­nap­ping and was paid $10,000.

Ader took notes on a yel­low le­gal pad in the pris­oner’s box as Stewart tes­ti­fied on Thurs­day.

Stewart said she flew to Nairobi, Kenya, to help ar­range for re­lease of her daugh­ter and Bren­nan af­ter many months of dis­tress­ing long-dis­tance calls.

In a record­ing of a phone call with Ader played in court, Stewart de­manded to speak with the pair be­fore any money was trans­ferred to So­ma­lia.

“We don’t even know if they’re alive,” said Stewart, who was joined on the call by Bren­nan’s sis­ter.

“The money will not be in your hands un­til we speak to Amanda and Nigel.

“If you let us speak to them tonight, you will have it to­mor­row morn­ing.”

At one point, the cap­tors were de­mand­ing US$2.5 mil­lion, but the fam­i­lies as­sem­bled less than US$700,000 af­ter months of try­ing to raise funds.

The plan was to elec­tron­i­cally trans­fer the ran­som funds from Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, to Mogadishu through a mon­ey­trans­fer ser­vice.

The phone record­ing in­di­cates Ader was ner­vous, ask­ing how he could trust the fam­i­lies to pay.

“How can we trust you?” Stewart said. An ini­tial at­tempt to pay the ran­som did not work out, but a sec­ond ef­fort was suc­cess­ful.

Dur­ing the 15-month or­deal, Stewart was thrust into the role of ne­go­tia­tor, some­times tak­ing calls from Ader in the mid­dle of the night due to the time dif­fer­ence.

Trevor Brown, an Ottawa-based lawyer for Ader, called the cir­cum­stances “sur­real” dur­ing cross-ex­am­i­na­tion.

“You found your­self in a po­si­tion you never thought you’d be in,” he said.

Brown painted Stewart’s se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions as a con­fus­ing web due to Ader’s heavy ac­cent and lim­ited English, the dif­fi­culty of hear­ing prop­erly on over­seas phone links and the fact that peo­ple work­ing at the re­quest of Bren­nan’s fam­ily were also in touch with Ader.

Brown sug­gested it was im­pos­si­ble to know what role Ader was play­ing.

Stewart ac­knowl­edged re­ceiv­ing a fol­lowup phone mes­sage from Ader in Jan­uary 2010, as well as later con­tact through Face­book.

Ader said he wanted to help Lind­hout, apol­o­gized to Stewart for speak­ing badly to her and claimed he was “play­ing two sides” in the ne­go­ti­a­tions in or­der to save her daugh­ter, Brown told the court.

Stewart said she didn’t nec­es­sar­ily be­lieve Ader: “I didn’t trust him.”

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