'They chained me up in a room' Captured pilot describes ordeal in Somalia

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Enraged Somalis tried three times to kill the U.S. helicopter pilot captured by Somalian gunmen here, the pilot said in an interview yesterday at the house where he is being held hostage.

In his first interview with a foreign journalist since being captured during a fierce 15-hour battle, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant told the Guardian newspaper of Britain how he was dragged through city streets, writhing in agony from the severe back and leg injuries he sustained when his Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Fifteen U.S. soldiers died from wounds in the Sunday-to-Monday firefight during which Warrant Officer Durant was captured. Another 78 were wounded.

"I think I was dragged out of the helicopter by one of the other crew," he said. "I think everyone was alive when we crashed. As soon as we crashed there was a lot of gunfire and we were trying to protect ourselves. The shooting went on for about 20 minutes.

"I couldn't move because of my leg and back injuries," he continued. "We came down pretty hard. And I was lying right beside the aircraft, so I couldn't see anybody. I could hear one of the crew chiefs. He was hurt very bad. I could hear him moaning. I could hear him."

Lying on a bed in the district of Mogadishu where he was brought down, Warrant Officer Durant's bloodshot eyes stared blankly as he described the terror of his capture. Outside, in a sunny courtyard, a Somalian woman was hanging out wash as her children chased each other with sticks across a sun-baked concrete yard.

"We lay there on the ground beside the aircraft, and I saw people coming out of tin shacks trying to get to us," he said. "I kept shooting at them, but then I ran out of ammunition. There was a large group of people. They grouped together on the side of the aircraft, shooting. Then I heard the other crew saying, 'I'm hit.' Then the people got to me and started to hit me."

The crowd pulled off his clothes and tied a rag around his head before dragging him out onto a main street.

"They held me up in the air," Warrant Officer Durant said. "Some people would break through the crowd and hit me. But there were other people shouting at them -- it seemed as if they wanted them to stop the beating."

After 10 minutes, he was put in a truck and driven through the streets as people yelled and screamed at him. He was taken to a house and left for 30 minutes, by which time darkness had fallen.

A gunman appears

Later, the pilot was taken to a second house, where a Somali cameraman filmed him for the pictures that were shown to the world.

"They chained me up in a room," Warrant Officer Durant said. "The chain was like a dog chain, with a small lock on it. In the morning, somebody came by when I was chained up. I saw the door open and saw the barrel of a gun -- I think it was an AK-47 -- come 'round the door. I didn't see the gunman. He opened fire and then disappeared. The bullets hit the floor and I was hit by shrapnel, which I had to pull out of my arm."

That night he was unchained and then moved to another house, he said:

"As they were moving me, I thought I was going to be killed. On the way here, we stopped at roadblocks, where the people who were taking me had to explain to the gunmen what was going on. They gave me some spaghetti, and some milk, and then left me in the car for about an hour and I thought: This is it. But instead they brought me here."

Each of the three mornings Warrant Officer Durant has spent at the house he is now in, he has been visited by a doctor to look at his broken right leg, facial injuries and bullet wounds.

On a bedside table in the cool, dark room were tablets, mineral water and cotton wool.

A newspaper was folded up on the narrow bed, where he fumbled with the controls of a small radio listening to bulletins about the aftermath of the battle that brought him here.

'It's a bad situation'

"I have asked them a lot about what they intend to do with me," he said. "Initially, they said they were trying to work a deal in exchange for 24 of their people who are held. I heard on the radio that that won't happen. It's not what I want to hear, but I understand it. The SNA [warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid's Somalia National Alliance] think it's a bad situation, because I'm hurt. The SNA want to show the world that they're not barbarians.

"Everybody wants it to calm down," he said. "Too many innocent people are getting killed. People are angry because they see civilians getting killed. I don't think anyone who doesn't live here can understand what is going on here.

"Americans mean well," the pilot continued. "We did try to help. Things have gone wrong. My biggest fear right now is that the people living around this part of town -- and I don't even know where I am -- will find out that I'm here and try to kill me."

He said his first captors were the people living in the houses that were crushed when the helicopter crashed. But now Mike Durant is now firmly in the hands of leading members of the SNA.

'I look like Rocky'

In the past three weeks, over 30 SNA members have been captured by American-led U.N. troops and are now being held at the U.N. compound in Mogadishu. Since he was filmed hours after his capture, Warrant Officer Durant looks less stressed and understands that he is no longer in the hands of a furious crowd, but in those of senior SNA members who realize his value to them.

He looked for the first time into the mirror that he asked to have before agreeing to have his photograph taken. "I look like Rocky," Warrant Officer Durant said, referring to the boxing movie starring Sylvester Stallone. "And that's a bad thing. Rocky lost."

His eyes filled with tears as he thought about his fellow crew members.

"The first thing I was told was that the people had killed them all, chopped them up. I consider myself fortunate," he said as he thought of his 1-year-old son, Joey, and his wife, Laura, who were expecting to go from Fort Campbell, Ky., to his sister's wedding in Washington today.

"I regret the rest of the crew," he continued. "They don't have a chance to see their families again. They were the greatest Americans."

The Pentagon would not comment on the Guardian interview, saying the matter was "too sensitive" to discuss.

Sister urges understanding

However, Warrant Officer's Durant's sister, Mary Ellen, who lives in Hyattsville, Md., told "CBS This Morning" yesterday that she believed the Somalis were entitled to greater understanding.

"We have to also understand the Somalian people don't live like people in the United States," she said. "There's very little civilization left there. Their country has been in chaos, there has been starvation. We have to remember they don't have the information we have. They've been led and misled by warlords and by what little information they have to go by."

Ms. Durant also urged the nation to look beyond the current crisis.

"We need to stand behind our people who are there," she said. "They went there in the name of the Americans and what the American people believe in. We are a humanitarian country and have high morals and value human life."

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross also visited Warrant Officer Durant yesterday.

"The delegate had the possibility to talk to him in detail about all the problems he might have," said Tony Burgener, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mr. Burgener continued: "He must feel relieved a little bit now to know that someone is caring about him and that we can visit him again."

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