MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - About 25 masked gunmen armed with
machine guns kidnapped two foreign aid workers in central Somalia
on Sunday, an aid worker and a witness said.
Witness Abdirahman Isaq was in the convoy when it was stopped as
it traveled between Radhure village and the town of Wajid in central Somalia. The kidnappers, who wrapped cloth around their lower faces, motioned for his vehicle filled with clan elders to continue but took hostage the two foreigners working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), he said.
Isaq said the aid workers did not initially appear afraid. Roadblocks where militias extort money and check for rival gunmen are common in lawless Somalia.
The aid worker said the two foreigners were seized and their Somali staff members released. One of the hostages is European and the nationality of the other was not known. The aid worker spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the
"We're lost contact with some members of staff," said Tom Quinn, the agency's head of mission for Somalia. "Investigations are ongoing."
Medecins Sans Frontieres said it would hold a news conference
about the kidnapping later Sunday in Belgium.
Isaq said other clan elders had informed him the two had made radio contact with their base in Somalia to confirm the kidnapping.
The two were working in Bakool, a central region near the Ethiopian
border and far from the coastline where Somalia's pirate gangs are based.
The capture of aid workers has long been a common problem in Somalia, often motivated by kidnappers demanding ransoms. There is
no indication that such kidnappings are linked to a recent surge in piracy off Somalia. But the lucrative ransoms pirates have received from ship owners may have emphasized the value of foreigners as
hostages in a country where nearly half the population is dependent on foreign aid.
Still, not all attacks on aid workers are financially motivated. Some are political: the government has accused them of helping insurgents and the insurgents have accused them of being spies. According to the U.N., a total of 35 aid workers were killed in Somalia in 2008 and 26 abducted.
The Bakool region, where the two Medecins Sans Frontieres workers were seized Sunday, is under the control of an Islamist militia that is fighting Somalia's weak U.N.-backed government.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991. The coup sparked a series of clan-based clashes and the country has been riven between competing militias ever since.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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