POLITICS

Militants ambush aid workers in Kenya, kidnapping 4, including a Canadian

06/29/2012 01:06 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT
NAIROBI, Kenya - Federal officials were scrambling Friday to learn more about the fate of a Canadian, reportedly one of four international aid workers that officials in Kenya said were kidnapped in their country by Somali militants.

"What I can say is that we are aware of a reported kidnapping in Kenya," said Claude Rochon, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, in an email.

"We are pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information and are in close contact with Kenyan authorities. We will not comment or release any information which may compromise these efforts."

Canada's top priority, Rochon added, is the "safety and security of its citizens."

Somali militants ambushed an aid convoy Friday, killed a Kenyan aid worker and kidnapped the four international workers at a Kenyan refugee camp near the border with Somalia, officials in Kenya said. Police in Kenya said they were pursuing the attackers.

The workers from the Norwegian Refugee Council were kidnapped after gunmen attacked a two-car convoy travelling through the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, said police official Philip Ndolo. Dadaab hosts nearly 500,000 Somali refugees.

The gunmen killed a Kenyan driver for the aid group during the attack, Ndolo said. Earlier reports said one Kenyan driver was also kidnapped but a security official said only the four internationals were in hostage takers' hands.

Ndolo said that police and military security personnel were pursuing the attackers. Kenya deployed troops into Somalia last October, so even if the kidnappers succeed in crossing back into Somalia, they may have to contend with Kenyan troops on the other side of the border.

A Norwegian Refugee Council spokesman in Norway, Rolf Vestvik, said he could not yet confirm any of the details of the incident. However, Vestvik did say that the Norwegian Refugee Council's Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson was in Dadaab during the attack. Vestvik said Rasmusson is safe and unharmed.

A spate of kidnapping attacks by Somalia gunmen across the border in Kenya last year were one of the reasons Kenya used to publicly justify its military push into Somalia last year.

Last October gunmen entered Dadaab and snatched two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders. The two are still being held, likely in Somalia. Gunmen also carried out kidnapping attacks around the coastal resort town of Lamu.

Since those attacks, Kenya has moved thousands of troops into Somalia, complicating the blueprint used by previous ambush attacks: grab a valuable international aid worker, resident or tourist in Kenya and take them back to the safehaven of Somalia in hopes of eventually collecting ransom.

Despite the presence of Kenyan military troops, al-Shabab militants still control wide swaths of southern Somalia, and if the kidnappers make it into that region the hostages could be in for a long ordeal.

No claim of responsibility was immediately made after Friday's attack.

— with files from The Canadian Press