Kenya: Al-Shabaab Steps Up Kidnap of Experts to Aid Agenda

Kenyan soldiers during their "Operation Linda Nchi" against the Somali Al-Shabaab militia (file photo).

Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab has ramped up kidnappings as a way of beefing up its pool of professionals and gathering intelligence.

As a result, professionals based in Mandera County are a worried lot. The most targeted include medics, teachers and security officers.

At least 11 people have been abducted in Mandera by suspected Shabaab militants in the past one year, according to security records.

"We have information that Al-Shabaab is interested in abducting medical officers and teachers to be used in areas under their control in Somalia," a senior security officer in Mandera said anonymously since he is not allowed to speak for the police force.

According to the officer, Shabaab targets mostly non-locals, who are believed to be cooperative once under its control.

Mr Julius Mwania, a mechanic, is the latest victim of the kidnappings. He went missing a month ago.

Mr Mwania was abducted on March 11 when the ragtag group ambushed a bus headed to Mandera from Nairobi at Bambo in Mandera North Sub-County.


County Police Commander Jeremiah Kosiom said a search for the missing mechanic was ongoing.

"We believe he is alive; the search is on. We will find him and reunite him with his family," said Mr Kosiom.

Mr Mohamed Bardad, the bus owner, said herdsmen and the local community had been engaged to trace Mr Mwania.

On January 5, suspected militants raided a village at Fino in Lafey Sub-County and abducted five locals.

They were forced onto a pickup truck and driven towards Somalia. The group abandoned four of the victims at Kuse but went away with one, Mr Mohamed Salat.

"This was a case of abducting an informed person who could divulge information on security operations in the area, that is what al-Shabaab keeps doing when they want to know about the security situation," said Mr Ali Adan, a local.

He said that most prominent locals along the porous border have been forced to flee their homes for fear of abduction.

"Nobody is sitting pretty at home along the border. Al-Shabaab will come for you hoping to get information or just to cause pain to your family," he said.


On June 23, 2019, three elders were abducted at Fino and taken to Somalia. They were accused of being government informers.

A nurse at Mandera County Referral Hospital was forced to run for his life after suspected militants went looking for him.

He used to work with the two kidnapped Cuban doctors. A police report indicated that militants wanted him to act as a translator. The incident happened on April 17, 2019.

In a daring road ambush on April 12, 2019, Dr Landy Rodriguez, a surgeon, and Dr Herera Correa, a general practitioner, were kidnapped by the militants, who killed one of the police officers escorting them.

Elders were dispatched to help negotiate the release of the doctors but their efforts were futile.

After spending two weeks in Somalia, the elders returned home empty-handed.

"We managed to see the two doctors, but the abductors sort a ransom that we could not agree on and we needed to report back to our government," said one of the elders.


It later emerged that a ransom of Sh150 million had been demanded but the government refused to pay.

The whereabouts of the doctors is unknown, with the government choosing to remain mum on the issue.

Inspector-General of Police Hilary Mutyambai, while on a tour of Mandera County last August, said police did not have permission to cross the border in search of the doctors.

"Our work as police ends at the border ... I am not in a position to account for the fate of the Cuban doctors, but we have a team working on it," Mr Mutyambai said.

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