Kenyan and Somali troops rescued four aid workers in Somalia two days after they were kidnapped from a United Nations refugee camp in northeastern Kenya, and killed one abductor during the operation.
Two gunmen fled the firefight that broke out last night, Kenya Defence Forces spokesman Cyrus Oguna said by phone from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The four hostages, including two women, are from Canada, the Philippines, Pakistan and Norway, and work for the Norwegian Refugee Council, he said.
“We received local information that they had carjacked a vehicle and we used that to lay an ambush,” he said today. “There was a lot of collaboration locally.”
Kenya’s military entered neighboring Somalia in October to fight al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked militia, after blaming it for the kidnapping of at least four foreigners and murder of a British tourist. The kidnappings threaten the country’s tourism industry, which earned 98 billion shillings ($1.2 billion) last year.
The identity and motives of the kidnappers was not clear, Oguna said. Kenya’s remote frontier, which borders Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda, has for decades been the site of banditry, smuggling and criminal activity.
Al-Shabaab, which has fought a five-year-insurgency against Somalia’s UN-backed transitional government, vowed to attack Kenyan targets in response to the military incursion. Kenyan troops, along with Somali and African Union forces, have driven the Islamic militants out of a series of cities and towns, including Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, since August.
Kenya’s entry into Somalia has been followed by blasts, kidnappings and assaults authorities in most cases blamed on al-Shabaab. Attacks yesterday on two churches in the Kenyan town of Garissa, 200 miles (322 km) northeast of Nairobi, killed at least 17 people, police said. About 30 people are still being treated for their wounds as authorities hunt for four suspects.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it “is relieved and pleased” the kidnap victims were safe, according to a statement on the charity’s website. They are receiving treatment for minor injuries and will be taken to Nairobi soon, Oguna said.
The four were abducted on June 29 from a convoy in the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, which houses more than 450,000 people, many of whom fled war and drought last year in Somalia. A Kenyan driver was killed in the attack. Three suspects have been captured in Somalia, General Ismail Sahar, a Somali government military spokesman, said today in a phone interview.
Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, plunging the country into lawlessness, clan conflict and deeper poverty, as well as allowing piracy to flourish off its coast.
With assistance from Hamsa Omar in Mogadishu --Editors: Bryson Hull, Karl Maier