Tuesday, October 25, 2011

American, Danish, Somalian Aid Workers Kidnapped in Somalia

It is presumed that Somalian gunmen kidnapped a female American aid worker, 32, as well as two other aid workers, one Danish, 62, and one Somalian, age unknown, earlier today as their convoy traveled to a local airport in northern Somalia. The kidnappings come only weeks after four Europeans were seized by suspected Somali gunmen in neighboring Kenya. The three employees work for the Demining Group is an NGO whose experts have been clearing mines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. If EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) is what they normally do, what exactly were they doing in Somalia at a time when there are greater international priorities than EOD removal?

COMMENT: I'll be very candid, what in the world were foreign aid workers doing in northern Somalia, given several kidnappings for foreigners from neighboring Kenya, not to mention the fact that Kenyan security forces were deployed inside Somalia a week ago to neutralize al-Shebaab fighter and rescue kidnap victims?

Now, after these three new kidnap victims have been abducted, the Danish Refugee Council suddenly suspends their operation in Somalia. What were they thinking? Suspension of aid operations should have suspended months ago! When will some of these NGOs "get it." While they may think they're doing humanitarian work, the reality is that foreigners inside Somalia might as well have a bounty on their heads.

Reportedly, the kidnap victims were traveling in a three-car convoy, including one vehicle of armed guards, but that the guards did not resist the kidnapping. If they were armed, why were they there? Talk about senseless.

Although details are sketchy, the three kidnap victims are believed to be on their way to a pirate safe-haven on the Somalian coast. The kidnapping comes only weeks after the seizure of two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders inside Kenya. Also, a British woman, 56, is still being held in Somalia after being kidnapped in September and an ailing French woman, 66, also kidnapped and taken to Somalia recently died because her captors denied her critical medications that had been sent to her by the French government.

A week ago, Kenya sent at least 1,600 military personnel into southern Somalia to attack al-Qaeda-linked militants in response to those kidnappings, though it's not clear whether the al-Shabaab fighters were responsible for the abductions. Somalia also has not had a functioning central government in over 20 years. In recent days, and in retaliation for Kenyan forces being sent into Somalia, two separate IEDs were detonated in Nairobi, killing one and injuring 22.

For years I have provided "Kidnapping and Hostage Taking: Understanding, Prevention and Response" courses to aid workers and multinational companies operating in high-risk areas. My sense is that none of the those who have been kidnapped in Kenya and Somalia have undergone such training. Otherwise, they wouldn't have kidnapped. What is really tragic is that the armed guards protecting the Demining Group victims were improperly trained and configured in the convoy. Very sad.

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