British Columbia

B.C. woman abducted in Pakistan believed dead

Canada's Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged for the first time that it believes a controversial B.C. journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 died in Pakistan.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged for the first time that it believes a controversial  B.C. journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 died in Pakistan.

In a statement to CBC News, spokeswoman Lisa Monette said the ministry has "reason to believe that [Beverly Giesbrecht] passed away late last year in Pakistan.

"We are not currently able to confirm this information definitively and may not be [able to] for a considerable time," she said.

For months, the Canadian and Pakistani governments refused to confirm reports from last November that Giesbrecht had died two years after she was kidnapped.

Beverly Giesbrecht, also known as Khadija Abdul Qahaar, was kidnapped in Pakistan. (CBC )

Giesbrecht, from West Vancouver, converted to Islam after the Sept. 11 attacks, changing her name to Khadija Abdul Qahaar. She began working as a journalist, writing stories considered sympathetic to the Taliban.

In November 2008, Giesbrecht, her translator Salman Khan and her driver were headed to interview tribal elders in Pakistan's frontier near the Afghan border when they were captured.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Khan recounted details about the kidnapping.

"It was a terrible experience, and recently when I heard about her death it was like adding salt to the wounds," Khan said. "It was really a  horrible thing … and the outside world will never know about it, and they can't even feel that — what happened there and the conditions we were in." 

Khan said that on their way to interview the tribal elders they were stopped by five or 10 people with guns.  

"We couldn't do anything and they just took us to some other place," Khan said.

Abused and tortured

Khan said that every week or so they were moved from one mud house to another. He said despite Giesbrecht's sympathies to the Taliban, she stood up to their abductors.

Khan said she was really hard to control. "She said, 'OK, if you people want to shoot me, you can shoot me, but just let me go or … shoot me, I don't want to be your captive.' And it was like really hard to control her, and one of the guys used his gun and, like pushed her, and she was physically tortured at one place."

"I mean there was one guy — really who was a fanatic. He used to throw water at her, cigarette burns as well, he used to treat her really badly."

Giesbrecht's captors forced her to make several video and phone calls, parroting the ransom demands that began with $2 million and the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

"Whenever we made the call outside, we didn't get anything," he said. "When we talked to the Pakistani government people, they said they're not aware of anything, the Canadian High Commission said they are not aware of anything. So we didn't know what was happening but it was really like — like no hope at that time."

Khan said Giesbrecht, who was in her 50s,  was suffering from arthritis, a bad back and hepatitis.

Eight months after he was taken hostage, Khan was let go, along with Giesbrecht's driver, because he said they were seen as worthless assets.

"She was happy to see us going … she told me from the word go that the government of Canada has a policy they will not negotiate … she was ready for her death there."

Giesbrecht's family had already believed that she was dead, even without confirmation from the government. An obituary that appeared in a B.C. newspaper last month for Giesbrecht's mother indicated  Beverley died last year.  

But Glen Cooper, a longtime friend who fielded some of the calls from the kidnappers, said he has doubts about how hard Canadian officials worked to free her.

"I questioned whether relying on the government solely is the best approach in a kidnapping. If this happened again I would take a more active role in trying to find a solution privately rather than depending on the government."

With files from Curt Petrovich