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Tajik Nurse Kidnapped In Yemen 'Prayed To Die At Home'

  • Salimjon Aioubov

Rofieva worked in Yemen for six years.

Rofieva worked in Yemen for six years.

For six years, walking to work at a Yemeni hospital was part of Gulrukhsor Rofieva's everyday routine. But the Tajik nurse's life abroad took a horrifying turn on the morning of October 29.

As Rofieva and some colleagues approached a mosque just a five-minute walk from her workplace, a vehicle stopped and six men jumped out. Rofieva, 36, was knocked unconscious, bundled up, and driven away.

"I screamed and clung to the car door," she recalled, before her captors hit her on the head with a gun. When she came to, it was after noon, and her calls for help were met with threats of more beatings if she continued.

Just days before the end of her six-year stint as a nurse in the central Yemeni city of Marib, Rofieva would begin a harrowing ordeal that lasted more than three months. She endured beatings, torture, and mind games that ended only on February 10, when she was freed following the intervention of local and Tajik authorities.

It is unknown exactly who her abductors were -- it has been reported that members of a local tribe were responsible -- but Rofieva believes it was a case of mistaken identity.

"They thought I was a doctor," she told RFE/RL's Tajik Service from a hospital in Marib just hours after her release. "They said I was getting big money -- a salary of $5,000. I told them that I was a nurse, not a doctor, and that I didn't make that kind of money."

But they didn't believe her.

"I was tortured. My arms and legs were bound in chains. Men beat me," she said, describing various tortures. "They denied me food, sometimes did not allow me to go to the toilet. Water was not allowed."

'Trade Bait'

Rofieva said that in addition to money, it was clear that her captors saw her as trade bait to secure the release of their "brother" who had been imprisoned for five years.

"They demanded his release in exchange for my release," she said. "They threatened that if he was not released, then I would not be let go."

On the morning of February 9, good news came. She was told by her captors that their brother had been released and that she would be freed the following morning. As promised, the next morning a woman came by, told Rofieva she was going home, and she was taken to a drop-off point.

In order to prevent any rescue attempts, Rofieva said, she had been moved to a different location every week. Suffering from illness and constant beatings, she contemplated ways to kill herself.

Thoughts of her family -- her parents and children -- kept her going. "When reading prayers, I always prayed to be able to return home to die near them, not in a foreign land."

Speaking to RFE/RL shortly after she was freed, Rofieva was brief in summing up her health: "Thank God, I'm fine."

Asked about her future plans, she turned to what seem like small issues considering what she has been through.

She worried that she had overstayed her visa, noting that she was kidnapped the last working day before her documents expired. And she had purchased tickets to go home, but the aircraft that was to fly her home from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, is no longer available.

Written by Michael Scollon, based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Salimjon Aioubov