x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirati kidnap victim speaks about ordeal

Mohammed Khamis Majed was snatched from the grip of the armed Nigerian marauders who kidnapped him, after a covert operation staged by a special force from the Ministry of Interior.

Emirati kidnap victim Mohammed Khamis Majed at home with his friends and family after returning to the UAE early this week in Umm Al Quwain.
Emirati kidnap victim Mohammed Khamis Majed at home with his friends and family after returning to the UAE early this week in Umm Al Quwain.

UMM AL QUWAIN //The watchful eyes that now encircle Mohammed Khamis Majed hold much more love than those that scrutinised his every move for almost two months.

With his toddler son on his knee, flanked by his wife and mother and surrounded by his closest family and friends, Mohammed is far away from the "hell on earth" he endured at the hands of armed Nigerian gangsters.

On January 21, the Emirati businessman, 29, was abducted by the gang, who demanded US$5 million (Dh18.3m) for his release.

The former Special Forces officer was rescued in an operation by the preventive security and federal investigation department of the Ministry of Interior, and flown back to the UAE only six days ago.

Last night, holding his three-year-old son Hamdan in their Umm Al Quwain home, Mohammed recalled his ordeal in the jungle - and spoke of a beautiful life ahead.

"It's a new life. It's a new beginning for me," he said. "I never experienced so much happiness in my life like what I am having now. It's an amazing feeling.

"I was kept in the middle of a jungle. It was like an Amazon forest. It was so thick you couldn't see anything from the top. Even a helicopter cannot find out that someone is staying down [on the ground]."

Mohammed said he was kept in a rough shelter of wood erected between the trees, with a leaking roof and planks for walls, and just a thin blanket to keep him warm as the temperatures dropped at night.

"It was so small that only one person could stay," he said. "The roof used to leak whenever there was a rain. It was like a hell on earth.

"I would squeeze myself and sleep on the floor. I had a dirty blanket to cover myself. It was cold at night and hot during daytime."

As he battled to stay mentally and physically healthy - he lost almost 30 kilograms during the ordeal - Mohammed also had to be wary of the poisonous insects and reptiles sharing his shack.

"I was almost bitten by a snake once. It went past my back and thankfully it did not touch me.

"Spiders were very common. They were all over the place. They are very big spiders, unlike what you see in the UAE."

Mohammed survived by eating fruit given to him by his captors but he never knew when his next meal would come.

"Sometimes I used to get food three times a day and sometimes only once a day. It was very difficult. I almost starved all through the ordeal. They used to allow me to take a shower once in four days."

Mohammed was snatched by the gang after travelling to the port city of Lagos to complete a business deal with his building-maintenance company. He was just one day into the trip.

The gang demanded the $5m from his family for his release and threatened to kill him if it was not paid.

His relatives defied them, reporting the kidnapping to UAE authorities.

The leader of the gang and some of the other members were arrested during his rescue.

"[The kidnappers] used to never let me stay alone in the room," Mohammed said. "Someone used to be with me guarding all the time. One person used to be with me and another four to five persons used to stay outside."

He said towards the end of the nightmare his abductors "looked worried" and he sensed they knew it was coming to an end.

Despite his treatment, Mohammed said he never feared for his life.

"I believed in God. Death and life is in Allah's hands," he said. "I did not get frightened even once.

"I prayed to God constantly asking for help. It really made me strong. Even the kidnappers liked my bravery and started respecting me.

"I was dealing quite smartly with them. I made sure that they didn't hurt me. I used my mind while talking to them and interacting with them. I always smiled and obeyed their orders."

After being rescued and flown back home, Mohammed was kept in Zayed Military Hospital to receive regular health check-ups.

"By God's grace, I am doing fine now. I had become very weak due to lack of food and I hope to regain my health fast."

Last night at the celebration held in his honour, his mother Umm Mohammed said she prayed every day for her son's safe return.

"God has answered my prayers. My son has come home safely. It's the best day of my life," she said tearfully.

His uncle Obaid Juma Ali was also at his side and expressed his happiness that the ordeal had come to an end. "It's nice to see him at home with his son," he said.

Mohammed said he would never return to Nigeria and urged all travellers to stay in touch with their embassies wherever they were travelling.

He thanked the UAE Government for delivering him from his ordeal.

"I am highly indebted to them. They did an excellent job and always informed my family about the developments. It's a great effort.

"Now I am looking forward to the future. It's a great feeling to be back with my family. My son Hamdan is very happy to see me."

frahman@thenational.ae