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The kidnapping Thursday night of two aid workers in one of the safer areas of Somalia is likely to raise questions for humanitarian groups considering returning to the war-torn Horn of Africa, as most international aid agencies have already fled.
The two kidnapped men, a Somali and a Zimbabwean security consultant with dual British citizenship, work for Save the Children and had been sent to a town near the border of Ethopia called Adado to assess whether it was safe for the agency to set up a base there.
“Save the Children can confirm that two members of staff were taken by armed gunmen last night from a Somali town near the Ethiopian border,” the British charity said in a statement. “At this point, Save the Children has no further information as to the whereabouts or well-being of their staff.”
The incident came as Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed appointed Somali-American Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the country's new prime minister, underscoring the political uncertainty in Mogadishu as a weak transitional government attempts to quash an insurgency in the south and pirates in the north.
Witnesses say the attackers came in two trucks and then sped off with the aid workers. “The gunmen heavily armed with machine guns stormed the building where the men stayed and they took them. We don't know where they have gone to,” said local elder Mohamed Abdullahi in an article by the South African Press Association.
It was not immediately clear who the kidnappers were, though Reuters reports the hostages were taken to an area controlled by the Al Qaeda-backed insurgent group Al Shabab, which controls large swaths of Somalia and is closing around the fragile interim government in Mogadishu.
Local leaders have vowed to help pursue and recover the two aid workers, reports Mareeg Online, a Somali Internet news service. Local leader Mohamed Aden Ti’i accused militants connected to Abdi Shukri of conducting the kidnapping.
The area where the pair was seized was supposed to be one of the "safer parts" of Somalia, reports the Guardian. More so than other parts of the country, which has been without a functioning government for 20 years, Adado is considered generally safe for foreigners because local clan leaders control the area. Other parts in the south and central region of Somalia are under the authority of Islamic extremist movements with supposed links to Al Qaeda.
In retaliation for the kidnapping, a moderate Islamic faction connected to the UN-backed government reportedly seized control of Adado from a local warlord in clashes Friday morning that left at least seven people dead, according to the BBC’s Mohamed Mwalimu. The group may have also taken action because it believed that Al Shabab was gaining ground there.
Kidnapping has become something of an industry in Somalia, especially in the coastal region that is plagued with piracy. Pirates abducted the fisheries minister of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, in the northeast, last week when they reportedly thought he wanted to close their coastal base, the Associated Press reported.
Many militia groups in the country use kidnapping as a revenue generator, reports The Daily Telegraph. Though most people are freed soon after the ransom is paid, a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, is still being held after their abduction from their yacht one year ago.