Spanish Aid Workers Freed After Nearly Two Years In CaptivityJuly 19, 2013 in Africa, Somalia
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday.
Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.
MV Albedo Sinks After Nearly 3 Years in CaptivityJuly 12, 2013 in Somalia
At least eleven people have died after a vessel, which was being held by pirates for ransom for nearly three years, sinks off the coast of Somalia.
According to reports, at least four foreign crew members and seven Somali pirates died when a cargo ship, that Somali pirates were holding for ransom, sank off the coast of Somalia earlier this week. Fifteen other crew members are reported to still be missing. The Malaysian-owned MV Albedo cargo vessel, along with its crew members, was hijacked 900 miles off the coast of Somalia on 26 November 2010. At the time, the vessel was en route from the United Arab Emirates to Kenya. According to one of the pirates holding the vessel, “the ship had been gradually sinking for almost a week, but it sank totally last night…we have confirmed that four foreign crew and seven pirates are dead. We are missing 13 in total…we had no boats to save them.”
The MV Albedo originally had twenty-three crew members on board, comprising of Bangladeshi (7), Pakistani (7), Sri Lankan (6), Indian (2) and Iranian (1) nationals, when the vessel was seized nearly three years ago. The seven Pakistani hostages, Captain Jawaid Saleem, Chief Officer Mujaba, Third Officer Raheel Anwar, Fourth Engieer Zulfiqar Ali along with some sailors Kashif Naveed, Faqeer Mohammad Soomro and Ahsan Islam, were released in August 2012 following a payment of ransom that reportedly amounted to US $1.1 million. One Indian crew member, Raju Prasad, died on board the vessel in July 2011. However the cause of his death remains to be undetermined as varying reports have suggested that he either died from cholera or was shot in the chest by the pirates holding the vessel captive after a heated telephone conversation with the ship’s owners. After the Pakistani crew members were freed in 2012, they confirmed that during their time in captivity, they had been tortured by their captors, being locked in solitary confinement or all made to stand outside for several days without food, water or any facilities.
The EU Naval Force has also confirmed that the whereabouts of the fifteen crew members continue to be unclear. A statement released by the EU Naval Force indicated that it “can confirm that the Malaysian flagged motor vessel MV Albedo, held by armed pirates at an anchorage close to the Somali coast, has sunk in rough seas.” Further noting that “an EU Naval Force warship and Maritime Police Aircraft have closed the sea area and are carrying out a search and rescue operation to search for any survivors. The whereabouts of the 15 crew members from the MV Albedo is still to be confirmed.” It has been reported that some of the hostages had been held on land while the pirates demanded ransoms from the ship’s owners for their release, while some the crew members had been held on board the ship.
The EU Naval Force has currently closed off the surrounding area of sea and is carrying out a search and rescue operation for any survivors of the 15,566 dwt cargo ship.
Explosion in Mogadishu’s Main Market Kills at least One PersonJuly 9, 2013 in Somalia
A car has exploded inside the main market in Somalia’s capital city after a hand grenade was thrown into a vehicle which was carrying four police officials. At least one person has been killed in the attack, proving that despite recent infighting inside al-Shabaab, including the recent killing of top leaders, the extremist group is far from defeated and continues to be a severe threat to security within Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia. The attack comes just one day after Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s plane caught on fire, forcing the president to route back to Mogadishu.
According to police officials, the four-wheel drive vehicle caught fire after a homemade bomb was detonated at about 10:30 local time (07:30 GMT) in the capital’s main market. Sources on the ground have indicated that officers from a nearby police station rushed to the scene, shooting in the air in order to disperse the crowd. A police source in Mogadishu has confirmed that four of the police officers inside the vehicle were wounded. The market was partially closed for several hours while an investigation into the attacks is currently underway.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab has indicated that the militant group’s fighters had set off an improvised explosive device which targeted security officials in Mogadishu’s Bakara market. The militant group has claimed to have killed three officials and wounded three others.
Business has been booming in Bakara market over the last two years. Although insecurity remains to be an issue throughout the capital city there have not been many recent attacks in Bakara market. The attack was carried out on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is one of the busiest shopping days. The Somali Federal Government has also warned the public that Islamist militants may increase their activity over the following month. In previous years, the month of Ramadan, which is expected to start this week, has witnessed a surge in al-Shabaab attacks as gunmen have been urged to carry out attacks by their extremist preachers. In a bid to topple the internationally-backed Somali government, al-Shabaab militants have launched a string of attacks, including a daylight attack last month on a fortified United Nations compound.
Meanwhile a plane carrying the Somali president was forced to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu after one of its engines reportedly caught fire. A spokesman for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed confirmed the incident, stating that it was not immediately clear why the engine had stopped working. According to local reports, the President was not injured however fire fighters quickly arrived at the scene in order to put out the flames. The President was flying to the South Sudan capital of Juba when his flight was forced to turn round.
News of the incident was first reported on a Twitter feed that is run by al-Shabaab, however the report did not indicated that the militant group had attacked the plane.
Accidental Release of Diplomatic Letter Confirms Rift Between Somali Government and Kenyan ForcesJuly 4, 2013 in Somalia
An apparently accidental publication of a diplomatic letter has exposed a rift between the Somali Federal Government and Kenyan troops. The letter accuses the Kenyan army of causing recent faction fighting, which has left at least sixty-five dead in the southern port city of Kismayo. Kenyan troops are in Somalia as part of the African Union (AU) force who is currently battling Islamist militants in support of the United Nations-backed government. Kenyan authorities have yet to comment on the letter.
The letter, which is titled as “Extremely Urgent – Kismayo conflict,” is from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fawzia Yusuf Adam. He is also the deputy prime minister to the African Union. The letter accuses Kenyan troops, who are part of the AU’s peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, of not being neutral peacekeepers and that instead, they are attempting to create a buffer state, known as Jubbaland, within Somalia, which will be run by local politicians that they can control. It further indicates that the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF), which is backed by one Somalia faction against others, arrested a senior Somali government army officer and used heavy weapons in civilian areas. According to the letter, the “incompetence” of the Kenyan commander of AMISOM in southern Somalia is said to have caused an outbreak of recent fighting in the southern port city of Kismayo which has led to a “preliminary” count of 65 dead and 155 injured. According to on-the-ground reports in Mogadishu, the letter appears to have been emailed to journalists accidentally after someone had mistakenly included the Prime Minister’s “press contacts” into the email recipients’ list.
The letter calls for the “immediate deployment” of a multinational African peacekeeping force to take over control in southern Somalia in a bid to calm the situation, which threatens to destabilize a region of the country which continues to be threatened by al-Shabaab militants. Although the Kenyan AMISOM contingent was recently reinforced by several hundred troops from Sierra Leone, Sierra Leoneans are “embedded” inside the Kenyan units. As such, the KDF continues to be the dominating force in this region of Somalia, which has been classified by AMISOM as “Sector 2.” While the letter highlights the need for a multinational deployment in the region, it does not go as far as to say that Kenyan troops should be replaced. Instead, it pointedly states that new “political officers” should be appointed for the area “whose nationalities will be different from the AMISOM contingent in Sector 2.”
Although Kenyan authorities have not yet officially responded or made any comments pertaining to the newly released diplomatic letter, the Kenyan army has previously insisted that it was neutral in its dealing with Somalia and that it was only attempting to bring peace to its neighbor. However this is not the first time that the Kenyan troops have been accused of backing a militia force, which opposed the central Somali government in Mogadishu. Over the past several weeks, authorities in Somalia have accused Kenyan troops of supporting militia soldiers “in violation of their mandate,” as well as attacking civilians and arresting a top government army commander. These accusations culminated in the Somali government demanding several days ago that Kenyan troops stationed in Kismayo be replaced. With the accidental release of this confidential diplomatic letter, it appears that this time the Somali government’s accusation may confirm suspicions in the region that while Kenya’s troops are a part of AMISOM, they may also have their own agenda – to create a buffer zone to prevent further cross-border attacks which have plagued the border region ever since Kenya deployed its troops in Somalia in 2011. Kenyan forces seized Kismayo, which is located 480 km (300 miles) south of Mogadishu, from al-Shabaab in October 2012. Currently, there are several self-declared presidents of Jubbaland and the central government in Mogadishu does not recognize neither one of them. Although Somali and AU forces have driven al-Shabaab militants out of a number of major cities, its fighters still control the smaller towns and rural areas located in central and southern Somalia, where they have been able to launch attacks within government-controlled territory.