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Second tourist kidnapping raises alarms on Kenya coast (video)

A second tourist kidnapping near Lamu, on the Kenya coast, raises concern that Somali criminal groups, pirates, or Islamists may have found a new soft target. Retired French journalist Marie Dedieu was seized Saturday.

By Correspondent / October 3, 2011

Marie Dedieu, who was kidnapped from Ras-Kitau on Manda island, Kenya and taken hostage, is pictured in this undated handout photo released to Reuters on October 3. An armed gang with links to neighboring Somalia kidnapped the 66-year-old wheelchair bound French woman on October 1 from Manda island, the heart of one of Kenya's most popular tourist destinations, in the second attack on foreign visitors in less than a month.

Reuters

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Nairobi, Kenya

The kidnapping of two Western tourists from their beachfront holiday homes in an upmarket resort on Kenya’s north coast has raised fears of a worrying shift in tactics of both Somalia's pirates and its Islamist insurgents.

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Both attacks took place in the Lamu archipelago, a string of white-sand islands that are the first significant settlement south of the Somali border, and one of Kenya’s major tourist draws.

In the most recent raid, a retired French journalist, Marie Dedieu, was seized early Saturday from the thatched cottage she rented for half the year on Manda Island.

Somalia-watchers are confused. For both pirates and Islamists, taking Westerners hostage from Kenya would be a major change in tactics. Al Shabab has never gone this far out of its way to kidnap foreigners, and the pirates have never struck on land before.

“Two instances doesn’t equal an increasing trend,” says Roger Middleton, a Somalia expert at Chatham House, an independent think tank in London. “But if somebody has success in carrying out an attack like this, and shows the possibility of benefitting from that attack, you’re likely to see other people replicate that model.”

Soft targets

The reason why attackers seem to be choosing tourists on the northern Kenyan coast is that they are “soft targets,” adds Mr. Middleton. “There’s a general assumption that tourists are easy targets, and easy to get money out of them if you hold them for ransom. It’s much harder, of course to get money from tourists than it is from journalists or aid workers or a shipping magnate, but there’s no shortage of people in Somalia who are looking for soft targets and an easy way to make money.”

As a result of the attacks, both France and Britain have advised their citizens to avoid the district of Lamu. But Middleton says that the twin kidnappings would be of concern all up and down the tourist-friendly Kenyan coast, and as far away as the Seychelles. “It’s worry for Kenya of course,” Middleton says, “but also for someplace like the Seychelles, which has had a number of pirate attacks in the past, and which certainly has tourists on the beach.”

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