Published: October 13, 2011
“Unfortunately, these people and our own people don’t look too different,” said Eric Kiraithe, a Kenyan police spokesman, explaining how Somali militants could operate inside Kenya. “But we are pursuing them, and we should be able to stop this madness once and for all.”
According to Kenyan officials, around 1 p.m. the gunmen attacked a truck carrying two female European aid workers of the private aid agency Doctors Without Borders. The women were traveling through the Dadaab refugee camp, a vast complex in the middle of the desert that houses hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled conflict and famine in their country. The gunmen shot and wounded the agency’s Kenyan driver before speeding off toward the Somali border with the two women, Kenyan officials said.
Most aid agencies working in Dadaab insist that all aid workers travel with armed security, because there have been a number of kidnappings and carjackings in Dadaab in recent years. However, the Doctors Without Borders team did not have armed guards on Thursday.
Doctors Without Borders says hiring armed guards conflicts with its humanitarian work and its policy of being independent and neutral. According to one Doctors Without Borders official on Thursday, the only place in the world the organization uses armed guards is inside Somalia.
Kenyan police said that they were chasing the kidnappers through the desert with police jeeps and helicopters and that they suspected that the culprits were members of the Shabab, which last week killed scores of civilians, many of them students, in a suicide bombing in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
“There is no other criminal group in this area that could do this,” Mr. Kiraithe said.
He said that the motive was most likely money and that in previous kidnappings the assailants had asked for a ransom. Many Somalia analysts have said that the Shabab have been depleted by Somalia’s famine and desperately need money.
On Sept. 11, a boatload of Somali gunmen attacked a fancy beachside resort in Kenya near the Somali border, killing a British man and kidnapping his wife. A week and a half later, gunmen abducted a Kenyan driver in Dadaab who was working for a Western aid organization. On Oct. 1, Somali gunmen attacked another beachside resort, dragging away a disabled French woman and then outrunning a Kenyan Navy patrol.
All the hostages remain in captivity, and many analysts believe that the Shabab have been involved to some degree because the militants control most of the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border. However, Somalia pirate gangs may have recently struck up an opportunistic alliance with the Shabab, analysts say, helping out with the kidnappings and then splitting the ransoms.
Over the past several years, Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships, trading the crews for ransoms worth millions of dollars. But the prospect of Somali pirate gangs striking on land — and inside Kenya — is unnerving to many people across this region, and it seems that members of the Kenyan security forces, who are widely known for being underequipped and corrupt, have been unable to stop the kidnappings.
Gunmen kidnap two Spanish aid workers from Kenyan camp
GARISSA, Kenya | Thu Oct 13,
GARISSA, Kenya (Reuters) – Gunmen kidnapped two Spanish women working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp on Thursday, the third abduction of Westerners in Kenya by attackers linked to Somalia in a month.
Kenyan police said they suspected Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents were behind the kidnapping and that security forces had chased the abductors toward the border between the two countries, which has been sealed off.
“Two female aid workers working for MSF were … kidnapped by suspected al Shabaab militants in Dadaab refugee camp,” North Eastern Province police commander Leo Nyongesa told Reuters.
“We’ve mobilized all the officers and alerted those at the border to ensure that no vehicle exits the country to Somalia. The whole border area is now sealed,” he said.
MSF said a driver was wounded in the attack on its staff.
“He’s currently hospitalized and stable. Two international staff are missing. A crisis team has been set up to deal with this incident,” MSF said in a statement.
A spokesman at the Spanish foreign ministry confirmed the missing women were Spanish.
The kidnapping took place within weeks of two separate incidents that saw Somali gunmen seize Western female tourists from beach resorts in northern Kenya.
Dadaab, located about 100 km for the Somali border, was set up in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing violence in their country. It has since grown to become the world’s biggest refugee camp with more than 400,000 residents.
“Officers are in hot pursuit. We have received information that they have sped toward the Somali border,” said Nelson Kaliti, deputy police commander for Dadaab district.
The kidnapping will put further pressure on the Kenyan government to beef up defenses along its porous frontier and risks further hurting the tourism sector, one of the country’s top foreign currency earners.
Britain has already issued a travel advisory warning against all but essential travel within 150 km of the Somali border, which includes the popular Lamu archipelago where a French woman and a British woman were seized in the past few weeks.
(Additional reporting by Nour Ali in Isiolo; Yara Bayoumy, Humphrey Malalo and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Tom Miles in Geneva and Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana in Madrid; Editing by David Clarke and Peter Graff)