Plucky Indian escapes kidnappers in Sudan

June 13th, 2008 - 11:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, June 13 (IANS) It was sheer spunk and presence of mind that helped Mumbai youth Mohammed Adeeb Shaikh escape from the clutches of kidnappers in Sudan before reaching home here Friday evening. He was on the run for nearly the past fortnight, braving wild animals, reptiles in the dense jungles and surviving on his urine. Adeeb, who was employed with a Sudan oil company, was kidnapped May 13 along with three other Indians. He was in captivity for 18 days before he and another Indian colleague made a dash for freedom.

“I used my school knowledge of geography and astronomy to escape from the kidnappers, drank my own urine to combat fatigue and thirst in the blistering heat,” Adeeb told IANS Friday evening.

Recounting his ordeal, surrounded by his joyful family, Adeeb said that he and three other Indian colleagues and their Sudanese driver were kidnapped May 13, around 8 p.m. near the Neem Oilfield when they were heading for home at Heglig, an hour’s drive away.

The 11 kidnappers belonged to local tribal groups and comprised youth in their teens or early 20s. They were armed with sophisticated weapons and carried rocket launchers, Adeeb said.

They were dumped into a secret hideout in the deep forests, several kilometres to the west of Khartoum.

During the 18 days they spent in captivity, they were offered food - mainly roasted flesh of jungle animals killed by the kidnappers, which they refused. “After five days, when we had no option, we ate it, and whatever it was, tasted horrible,” he said with a shudder.

The kidnappers informed them that they had demanded a ransom of Sudanese Pound 200 million ($100,000). Later, he learnt in Khartoum, that the figure demanded was Sudanese Pound one billion ($500,000).

Following an outcry in Sudan, pressure building from the Indian government and other factors, the military raided the forest and zeroed in on the kidnappers’ hideout.

Panicking, the kidnappers divided themselves into two groups, and even divided the hostages. The day was May 30, Adeeb said.

There was a bloody mini-war in the dense forests between the kidnappers and the military, with rocket launchers fired freely, destroying at least one army truck, Adeeb said, recalling the horror.

Unable to withstand the army assault, the two groups started running in two different directions into the forest. While Adeeb and Biplav Bishwas, from Kolkata, were dragged with one group, their colleagues, Kuljit Singh of Amritsar and P.K. Abhilash of Kerala, along with their Sudanese driver Mohammed Atties (35) were forced to go with the other group.

After running for nearly five hours, at one point in the jungle, Adeeb and Bishwas suddenly found themselves alone. Grabbing the chance, they both fled from the kidnappers.

“We kept running for the next four days and nights, barely resting to catch our breaths and avoiding all kinds of wild creatures, reptiles, insects and sharp stones and thorns,” Adeeb said.

During those harrowing days, Adeeb drank his own urine. There was no fresh water anywhere in the dry forests and tiny waterholes had dried up in the extreme summer heat.

On June 4, Bishwas went to investigate a possible water source, but got lost and never returned - he is still listed as missing.

Bleeding all over and crying, Adeeb kept walking till he suddenly saw a road in the forest. He waited for a passing vehicle. After a few hours wait in a ditch beside the road, he saw an army truck and hailed it.

The soldiers interrogated him in English and were convinced of his plight, gave him first-aid and took him to Khartoum. There they contacted the Indian Embassy officials and his employers, the Greater Nile Star Petroleum Operating Oil Refinery, who took him under custody.

After a couple of days of treatment, Adeeb said that Indian ambassador Deepak Vohra urged him to rejoin the company since things had normalized, but he flatly refused.

He demanded to be sent home, and finally his passport and other documents, personal effects were handed to him and he was booked for India June 11.

That day, owing to an aircrash in Khartoum, all flights were cancelled and he was booked the following day on Qatar Airways.

The ordeal continued even after he survived the kidnappers. His ticket on Qatar Airways flight from Khartoum to Mumbai via Dubai, was cancelled at the last minute.

Then, he was booked on an Emirates Airlines flight EK-504, but the airline did not confirm his ticket early this morning.

He was booked on the afternoon flight, EK-506, which had a delayed departure and landed here only at 3.30 p.m.

Adeeb landed in Mumbai to discover that the airline forgot to load his luggage, but it has promised to send it Saturday.

Finally, when he reached home in Chembur, north-east Mumbai, around 6 p.m., he was hugged by his father Shaikh Qamar Ahmed, mother Hasmatunissa, his younger siblings Khadeeb, Nadeem, Moiudeen and sister Mariam.

Cousin Amjad Ali Shaikh who waited at Mumbai Airport for nearly 17 hours stood silently beside him and offered solace.

Kuljit Singh also managed to escape and is undergoing treatment in a Khartoum hospital. Bishwas is missing while Abhilash and driver Atties are still in the custody of the kidnappers.

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