Former Model Waris Dirie Found Alive in Brussels
BRUSSELS, Belgium – Waris Dirie, the Somali-born supermodel and former James Bond girl who launched a worldwide campaign against female genital mutilation, was found by police Friday in central Brussels three days after she disappeared, the prosecutor's office said.
She was found hours after police announced they were launching a nationwide search for her. She had last been seen getting into a cab after a mix-up over a hotel in the early hours of Wednesday.
Prosecutor's spokeswoman Estelle Arpigny said Dirie was being questioned by police about the disappearance and appeared to be in good health.
She declined to give further details, saying it was unclear what had happened since Dirie vanished after leaving a Brussels nightclub.
Dirie, 43, gained international fame as a model in Chanel ads and acting in the 1987 James Bond movie "The Living Daylights" before launching her campaign against female genital mutilation in 1996.
She shocked the world with a best selling book "Desert Flower" that described how her genitals were sliced off with a dirty razor blade without anesthesia, and then stitched together.
Belgian media reports said she was found by police Friday afternoon walking the Brussels' Grand Place square.
The prosecutor's office is scheduled to hold a news conference Saturday morning on the case.
A a U.N. goodwill ambassador, Dirie was due to speak on genital mutilation in Brussels at two conferences on women's rights organized by the European Union, including one Thursday attended by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Concern over her disappearance was heightened because of the discovery last week in Paris of the body of another African-born former model who had campaigned against female genital mutilation. Guinean-born Katoucha Niane was discovered floating in the River Seine.
The French police said an autopsy showed no signs of foul play, raising the possibility that she may have fallen accidentally into the river. However, Katoucha's family filed a legal complaint Friday saying they suspected homicide.
Dirie's manager, Walter Lutschinger, said the 43-year-old former model had been involved in an altercation early Wednesday after a taxi driver took her to the wrong branch of the Sofitel hotel chain. The police were called and drove Dirie around Brussels looking for the correct hotel because she had apparently forgotten where she was staying.
At one hotel, while staff and police were checking for her name on a computer, police said Dirie stepped out saying she planned to buy cigarettes from an all-night kiosk, but instead climbed into a Citroen Picasso taxi and drove away.
"She left with no credit card. She left with no cell phone, no passport. She has no papers on her, probably no money," Lutschinger said before she was found. He did not return calls to his cell phone following Dirie's discovery.
An Austrian citizen, Dirie was attacked in her Vienna apartment in 2004 by a Portuguese handyman who had stalked her. She received minor injuries and the man, Paulo Augusto, was given a 5-month suspended sentence by an Austrian court.
Lutschinger said Dirie had planned to criticize European politicians at the Brussels' conferences for not doing enough to stamp out female genital mutilation in Europe.
"We can give no more excuses for this," Dirie told AP Television News in an interview last year. "This is a pure crime against a child. And we are doing it ... not God or nature."
Dirie was due to travel Friday to the Netherlands to receive an award for her campaigning.