It took some reassurance and phone calls before Canadian freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan realized they were free, 15 months after being kidnapped in Somalia.

The pair began crying after an armed convoy arrived in the dark to take them to safety on Wednesday, said Nur Aden Nur, the lead Somali government negotiator and one of two Somali MPs involved in the exchange.

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Lindhout sits with a child in Mogadishu, Somalia, before her kidnapping. ((Canadian Press))

He told CBC News on Saturday that Lindhout and Brennan initially did not understand they were being rescued and not just being handed over to someone else after they stepped out of a taxi, 30 kilometres south of the capital, Mogadishu.

"They started crying, you know. There was no way to talk with them. But then I gave them the phone to talk with their mothers in Nairobi," he said.

"Nobody told them they were coming to us. After that, we explained that to them briefly, that they were in the hands of the Somali government and they would go soon to their families."

The MP said Lindhout was soon crying tears of joy as she spoke to her mother, repeatedly saying "mama," and detailing how she feared for her safety throughout the ordeal.

Although an agreement for their release had been reached four weeks ago, there were problems in finalizing it, because of discord within the gang holding them, a source told CBC News.

"Within the gang, there were members causing obstructions to a smooth and safe exchange," the source said.

Lindhout and Brennan flew out of Mogadishu early Thursday. Later in the day, they arrived in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and were admitted to hospital.

Lindhout's family says she will return home to Sylvan Lake, Alta., when she's healthy enough to travel. Sources with knowledge of the hostage talks confirmed to CBC on Thursday that the total ransom paid for the release of Lindhout and Brennan was $600,000 US.

Australian businessman Dick Smith told Australia's Sky News that his country's government bungled the negotiations and that delays in the case exposed the two to "huge risks." He said Brennan's family ended up doing whatever they could to raise money for the reported $1-million ransom.

"They virtually sold everything they could sell," said Smith, who later stepped in to help the family hire a British security firm.

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith issued statements this week saying it's government policy not to pay ransoms.

Journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia, one of the world's poorest and most war-torn countries. Foreign and local workers generally travel in convoys heavily guarded by freelance militiamen.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy since 1991 when warlords overthrew long-time dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

With files from The Associated Press