12 July 2012

Somalia: Puntland Forces Pursue Aid Worker Kidnappers Linked to Al Shabaab

Photo: NATO
A group of Somali pirates (file photo): Security officials speculate the kidnappers may be pirates with financial ties to Al Shabaab.

Galkayo — New details have emerged in the kidnapping of Kenyan aid workers in the region of Mudug on Wednesday as Puntland forces pursue the kidnappers, Garowe Online reports.

The three aid workers who were working for International Aid Services (IAS) were en-route to Garowe after assessing Harfo, Ba'adweyn and Rooh a village off the main tarmac road when they were ambushed near a bushy area 6kms north of Ba'adweyn at around 3:30 pm.

The three aid workers two Kenyan nationals and one Somali/Kenyan were identified by the Puntland government in a statement released on Thursday as Ms. Madoni who was head of the delegation, Mr. Kariyota who is an engineer and IAS staff, and Mr. Abdinur Kambasse another IAS employee.

The group was ambushed by 14 men who attacked the delegation who were traveling in two vehicles. The second vehicle was carrying the aid workers' security who exchanged gunfire with the kidnappers who were heavily armed.

According to one of the aid workers' security who was injured in the battle, the 14 men were equipped with heavy assault weapons and 3 vehicles; one 4 by 4, one pickup truck and a station wagon.

The IAS representative for Puntland, Ahmed Isse Hassan is in critical condition and was rushed to hospital in Galkayo after suffering gunshot wounds to the torso. Two security staff for the delegation, are also suffering gunshot wounds sustained in the gun battle.

It is unclear if the Kenyan hostages suffered any gunshot wounds as police sources said that the Kenyans fled after the kidnappers open gunfire on the security staff.

Puntland pursues kidnappers

The kidnappers escaped to the coast but they were repelled by villagers in Towfiq, following a gun battle, the kidnappers then fled to southern Mudug where they according to witnesses, encountered more resistance from villagers.

Police forces in Mudug region were immediately mobilized after receiving the news of the kidnapping. The Puntland government press release said that the police forces blocked off strategic routes "to prevent kidnappers from escaping".

The Governor of Mudug region also joined the pursuit along with officials from the Puntland police force.

According to the Puntland press release, the Puntland forces have been covering a vast area as the follow the attackers who escaped to southern Somalia.

"Puntland security forces have been pursuing the kidnappers since Wednesday evening, covering a distance of over 200km of unpaved roads. Government intelligence has confirmed that the kidnappers have escaped towards Hobyo district, outside of Puntland jurisdiction," read the press release.

Motives behind kidnapping?

According to the Puntland press release, the kidnappers were reportedly refueled and given supplies by Al Shabaab in southern Mudug and were escorted to a destination near the coast.

However, the identity of the kidnappers and their allegiances has not been verified.

"The kidnappers and Al Shabaab might have been working in a joint operation," said Mohamed Ahmed a police official in Galkayo.

Quick payment for kidnapping is believed by some to be the system of operation for kidnappers. According to an intelligence source, who agreed to speak to Garowe Online under anonymity, kidnappers were linked to pirates who were behind similar bold kidnappings in Mudug region.

"Although it's not been confirmed, I believe the same group of kidnappers, some of them former and active pirates usually work for a sum or payment for hostages and they deliver the hostages to the financiers who are usually linked directly or indirectly to Al Shabaab militants operating in south central Somalia," said the intelligence agent.

The same group of kidnappers, the intelligence source mentions are believed to be the same kidnappers of Michael Scott Moore who was abducted returning from Galkayo airport.

However another source who contacted Garowe Online said that the kidnappers are holding the Kenyan nationals hostage to try to negotiate an agreement for alleged pirates being held in Kenya without trial.

According to Abdirazak Mohamed Dirir, Director of the Counter Piracy Directorate, there were 9 alleged pirates being held in Mombasa, Kenya since March 2009 without a trial.

Mr. Dirir said that the alleged pirates' families have been devastated by lack of due process by the Kenyan government and have been dispirited by the lack of effort by the Somali government.

As Puntland forces hunt for the kidnappers, villagers and residents in towns across Mudug are wary of letting the kidnappers reside in their village after community mobilization by Puntland government officials in Mudug.

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