Somali gunman kidnap French woman on Kenya resort island

(InformAfrica) — Somali gunmen on Saturday snatched a disabled Frenchwoman from a Kenyan resort island and fled back across the border with her after a shootout with Kenya’s navy, officials said. 

The 66-year-old wheelchair-bound woman, was taken from her home on the archipelago of Lamu in east Kenya at 3:30 am (0030 GMT) by “10 heavily armed Somali bandits,” a Kenyan government statement said, adding they were “suspected” members of Somalia’s Shebab Islamist rebel group.

It was the second attack on foreigners in one month in this part of Kenya near the border with wartorn Somalia.

Kenyan “security forces swung into immediate action and pursued the abductors” making their way to the town of Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia by speed boat, the statement said.

Nairobi dispatched a helicopter and coastguard vessels which caught up with and surrounded the fleeing gunmen.

“In the ensuing shoot-out between the abductors and the Kenya Navy, several of the abductors were injured but managed to enter” Ras Kamboni, said the statement which offered no details on the abducted woman’s condition.

Shebab rebels control large swathes of territory in southern Somalia, but Ras Kamboni, a former rebel bastion near the Kenyan border, is not currently under the control of any single group, with several gangs holding sway.

Somalia’s weak, Western-backed government is still largely confined to the capital, Mogadishu.

The Kenyan government said in a statement Saturday that “every effort is being made to rescue the victim”, while Tourism Minister Najib Balala promised security will be beefed up.

The woman, identified by local sources as Marie Dedieu, was taken from her home on Manda island, the government said, separated by an idyllic lagoon from the celebrity-packed, luxury resort isle of Lamu.

“We fear for her health,” French foreign affairs spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris, adding the woman who was retired and had been living in Kenya for about 15 years, was on a medical regimen when abducted.

Her companion, John Lepapa, a 39-year-old Kenyan who was present during the attack, said there were six assailants on land and four waiting in the boat, and “they all had guns”.

“He shoot at me when he passed this window,” he recounted.

Zeniab Anthony, her maid, said she was sleeping in the servants’ quarters when she got up to go to the toilet and “when I reached the doorstep, I saw a man with a gun. I started screaming and five more came in”

She and another maid were then taken to the main house, Anthony said.

Locals said the kidnap victim was well known in the area, where she spends much of the year. The kidnappers did not take her wheelchair with them.

Ernest Munyi, head of police for the Coast province, told AFP the abductors had forced a man working for the Frenchwoman and living nearby to take them to her.

“The gang knocked on the door of the house help who stays in an adjacent house and when he resisted, they forced themselves in. They then directed him to take them to the house of their boss, which he did,” he said.

“We were all startled awake because there were gunshots,” said Jeremiah Kiptoon, who works on Manda island.

“The dogs were barking and people were screaming … I ran to the place to see what was happening but by the time I got there, the lady was gone.”

Lamu, with its immaculate white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean, is one of Kenya’s most prized tourist venues despite its proximity to war-torn Somalia.

There are no cars on the island, only donkeys, and Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, according to the UNESCO cultural agency, which declared it a heritage site in 2001.

The French consulate in Nairobi issued a formal warning to prospective visitors Saturday to avoid the archipelago and the region up to the Somali border.

On September 11, gunmen attacked a British couple in their fifties — Judith and David Tebbutt — on holiday north of Lamu.

David Tebbutt was shot dead and his wife was captured. She is believed to have been sold to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.

Somalia has been lawless for two decades after plunging into a bloody civil war with the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

A Briton kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, environmental researcher Murray Watson, is still missing, and a French secret service agent has been held in Somalia for more than two years.

The Lamu archipelago is often included in package holidays to Kenya, with game-viewing safaris in some of the country’s national parks.

Tourism is a key foreign currency earner for Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy. The sector had only recently recovered from the violence that erupted after disputed 2007 polls.



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