Two Spanish aid workers kidnapped from Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp are believed to have been taken into lawless Somalia, police said Friday.
The two women, working as logisticians for the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), were seized Thursday by gunmen that police say were Somali Islamist al Shabaab rebels.
“There are all indications that they are on the other side (of the border),” regional police chief Leo Nyongesa told AFP.
It was the third incident of foreigners being abducted in just over a month.
Fierce fighting was reported in a town just inside Somalia on Thursday between Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab militants and other rival Somali militia groups.
Despite the likelihood the kidnappers are now in Somalia, police said they would continue the search in Kenya on Friday with the support of a helicopter.
“We have not found them, but the search is still going on. We will resume the search this morning both on the ground and in the air,” he added.
The Kenyan driver of the aid workers was shot and wounded by the gunmen, who then drove with the women towards the Somali border.
The four-wheel drive vehicle was found late Thursday by police in the Dadajabula area, less than 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Somali border, and some 40 kilometres from where the women were seized.
“We suspect they were unable to proceed with it due to poor terrain because it was raining,” Nyongesa added.
Kenya is still reeling from the recent kidnappings of a French and British national from coastal regions by Somali gunmen that dealt a blow to its key tourism sector.
Earlier this month, Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu was seized from her beachfront home in Kenya’s popular tourist destination of Lamu, and taken to Somalia.
Gunmen also captured British holidaymaker Judith Tebbutt from Lamu district and killed her husband.
No demands have been made public by the gunmen for the release of the hostages.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex, is home to some 450,000 refugees, most of whom have come from Somalia, fleeing drought and war.
Kenyan authorities have on several occasions expressed fears that Islamist extremists would infiltrate the Dadaab camps from Somalia, as the border lies barely 100 kilometres (60 miles) away.
A Kenyan driver working for the international aid organisation Care Kenya is still missing after he was abducted in September at gunpoint at the wheel of his vehicle from Hagadera camp in the Dadaab complex.
Policing the sprawling camps is extremely difficult, and Kenyan authorities recommend aid workers take with them armed security.
The camps have seen a huge influx of people this year – more than 7,500 people have arrived in the crowded complex of rag, tin and plastic huts this month alone.
The exodus has been sparked by a severe drought that has affected more than 13 million people across the Horn of Africa, hitting Somalia especially hard with the UN declaring famine in several southern regions.