A BORDERS journalist who was captured by the Taliban – and later converted to Islam – hopes the group will keep its promises.

Yvonne Ridley, who lives near Bonchester Bridge, was on assignment in Afghanistan for the Sunday Express when she was taken captive in 2001.

The chief reporter was held for 11 days, accused of being an American spy, before she was released on humanitarian grounds.

But despite being “absolutely terrified” at the time, the 62-year-old says members of the group “weren’t as bad” as she thought they would be.

And she hopes the Taliban keeps its promises regarding women’s and human rights, after it took control of Afghanistan.

“I was held for 11 days after sneaking into the country wearing the all-encompassing burqa and I was arrested after two,” said Ms Ridley, who is originally from Stanley in County Durham.

“They thought I was an American spy. They had never heard a Geordie accent before.

“I was absolutely terrified. Frozen with fear. I’d completely bought into the idea they were a brutal regime.

“It was a complete clash of cultures and I became the prisoner from hell.

“I went on hunger strike. I spat at them and I swore at them.

“Their response was, ‘Why are you doing this? We want you to be happy. You are our guest’.”

Ms Ridley was held in Jalalabad for six days before being moved to a terrorism wing in the capital, Kabul. Two years after her release she converted to Islam.

She said: “Richard Desmond, who ran my newspaper at the time, sent a team of negotiators and just instructed them to ‘bring her back’, whether it takes £1 million or £2 million.

But after the first meeting, the Taliban’s chief negotiator said he wasn’t interested and that they just wanted to be treated with respect.

“I have been back to Afghanistan a few times and I have even bumped in to my captors.

“They have thanked me for being truthful about the experience.

“At the time, they wanted me to embrace Islam as a captive, which I wasn’t prepared to do.

“I said if they let me go, I would study the Quran – because as a journalist there I felt it was important to properly understand it.

“I was a practising Christian at the time, but I converted to Islam two years after my release.

“It is more than a religion. It is a way of life.”

Following recent events in Afghanistan, Ms Ridley says she is not surprised by the speed of the Taliban takeover.

She added: “The Taliban are Afghans. At the end of the day, nobody likes their country being occupied by foreign forces.

“I hope the Taliban keep the promises they have made. There is no reason why they shouldn’t.

“I would trust them more than I would the outgoing government, led by Ashraf Ghani.”

Ms Ridley has lived in the Borders for 11 years, where she now runs the Scotia Peafowl Sanctuary.

She has also written a book about her experiences, as well as a fictional novel called The Caledonians: Mr Petrie’s Apprentice, which is set in the region.