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Somali militants to try captive Kenya officials

Wednesday March 25 2009

Militants of Al Shabaab train with weapons on a street in the outskirts of Mogadishu. The militiamen claimed that they “arrested” 5 Kenyan officials after they crossed the border into Somalia “without permission”. Photo/FILE

Militants of Al Shabaab train with weapons on a street in the outskirts of Mogadishu. The militiamen claimed that they “arrested” 5 Kenyan officials after they crossed the border into Somalia “without permission”. Photo/FILE 

By DOMINIC WABALA and ABDUL JAMAA

A Somali militia group that kidnapped five Kenyans on Wednesday intends to put them on trial, a spokesman for the group has told the Nation.

The group, which claims to be part of Al-Shabaab, an extremist group with links to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the abduction, which took place Wednesday morning near the border town of Mandera. Among those abducted are civil servants and a driver.

Militiamen claimed that they “arrested” the officials after they crossed the border into Somalia “without permission”.

The five have been identified as Wajir South district education officer Moses Mwangi, his quality assurance colleague Charles Nyakundi, the provincial quality assurance officer Onchiri Onyancha, their driver only identified as Abdullahi and an unnamed Wajir South education official.

The officials were attending the provincial primary school ball games tournament in Mandera Town in north eastern Kenya.

They were abducted at Bula Hawo Town, a kilometre away from the border town of Mandera. They had apparently gone shopping on the Somali side of the border, a fairly normal activity in the area.

The governor of Bula Hawo, Mr Ahmed Mohamed Barkuus, told the Nation that the officials had been “arrested” by the militia, which is in charge of security in the area, for crossing illegally into Somalia. The country has not had a government or organised border controls since 1991.

Mr Barkuus said the captives will be investigated and taken to court to explain their mission in Somalia. “From the investigations that are still going on, we established they are education officials,” he said.

The governor is an official of the interim Somali government but said security is under the control of the Islamist militia, which controls a large swathe of neighbouring Gedo region of Somalia. “They are the ones who are concerned with the security of the town... they are investigating the case,” he told the Nation by phone.

But he said the captives were in good condition and that they were being taken good care of. “We have provided them with food and everything,” he said, adding that negotiations were ongoing with Kenyan authorities for the release of the civil servants.

Police Commissioner Hussein Ali told the Nation by telephone that everything was being done to free the captives. The Provincial Administration and the police were in touch with the families of the officials to offer help and comfort, he said.

“The issue is not legalities, it is extortion,” he said of the claim that the officials had crossed the border without permission. He said the kidnappers were most likely a local militia, and there are many in lawless Somalia, but Al-Shabaab might muscle in to benefit from the incident.

Al-Shabaab is an extremist Isamist group, which controls southern and central parts of Somalia, and is opposed to the interim government of President Sheikh Shariff Ahmed.

It has on numerous occasions warned the Kenya government over its support for the Somali government and has threatened to wage war against Kenya.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden recently called for the ouster of President Ahmed accusing him of collaborating with enemies of Islam.

Militants have crossed into Kenya several times and raided towns, villages, markets and shopping centres before abducting people, including police officers, and taken them into Somalia.

In 2007, two police officers on patrol were kidnapped along the border. Their mutilated bodies were found in a bush on the Somali side. Their firearms and uniforms were stolen.

The Mandera police division boss was reported to have contacted the abductors and was by Wednesday evening still negotiating for the release of the five and the government vehicle. The Provincial Administration and the Provincial Security Committee were said to be making similar efforts.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said : “We confirm receiving reports of the abduction of five Kenyan civil servants by suspected Somalia militiamen in Mandera in the morning. The police and the Provincial Administration are negotiating with the militants for the release of the five from an unknown location in Somalia.”