National Press Club

Despite Kidnapping, Author Urges Young People to Go to Africa

May 23, 2013 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver |

Kidnapping survivor Jessica Buchanan and husband Erik Landemalm discuss their book at a Book Rap.

Kidnapping survivor Jessica Buchanan and husband Erik Landemalm discuss their book at a Book Rap.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Young people interested in doing humanitarian-aid work in Africa should go, said Jessica Buchanan, a humanitarian-aid worker in Somalia who was kidnapped in 2011 and survived 93 days of captivity before being rescued by the U.S. military.

“Make sure you are well informed. Make sure you take security seriously. Make sure you assess the risks,” Buchanan said at a National Press Club Book Rap May 22.

Buchanan appeared with her husband, Erik Landemalm. Their New York Times bestseller, ``Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six,'' was released May 14.

One of Buchanan’s captors was an 11-year old boy. Ironically, Buchanan originally went to Africa to stop the practice of using children as soldiers. The boy, Abdul Alaki, was one of her cruelest captors, at times holding a gun to her head or a knife to her throat, she said.

“He was so young he didn’t understand the whole concept of cause and effect,” Buchanan said. “If he chose to follow through on his actions, then there would be negative consequences in that they wouldn’t get the money they were asking for.”

Buchanan and Landemalm said that they believed her security team was responsible for the Oct. 24, 2011, kidnapping. They said it is the practice in Somalia to have a security liaison coordinate security when non-Somalis travel from the relatively safe northern region to the southern region. In this case, Buchanan and Landemalm said they thought her liaison was paid $100,000 to facilitate her kidnapping and that of her colleague Poul Thisted.

Thisted and Buchanan were rescued 93 days later after Buchanan developed a urinary tract infection that both she and doctors worried had spread to her kidneys and could be fatal. The rescue was completed just prior to President Barack Obama giving his Jan. 25, 2012, State of the Union speech.

“President Obama called my dad after the State of the Union address to let him know as one dad to another that his daughter was safe and she was on her way home,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan’s Somali captors first demanded $45 million for her and Thisted’s release, an amount later reduced to $18 million – still an unattainable sum especially before the seven-day deadline, she said.

Although SEAL Team Six, the same military unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, has been credited with rescuing Buchanan, she said she has never seen the faces of her rescuers and doesn’t believe she ever will.