Their capture by militants on Friday threw the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and their Somali Transitional Federal Government counterparts into a major security spin.
Both KDF and TFG mounted ground and air searches for the four foreign aid workers from Canada, Norway, the Philippines and Pakistan, who were seized from the Dabaab Refugee Camp under a hail of bullets. Their kidnappers were suspected to be Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab militants.
The two men and two women who work with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) were snatched by their kidnappers in the presence of NRC secretary-general Elisabeth Rasmusson. A Kenyan driver was killed and two others were wounded during Friday’s attack.
But after nearly two days of intense search, the KDF and TFG forces cornered the kidnappers 30 kilometres north of Dobley inside Somalia.
On Monday, the military chopper carrying the four NRC workers touched down at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi at 3pm, amid tight security.
One among the two men had a bandaged foot and walked with a limp, with an army officer who requested anonymity disclosing that he had suffered gunshot wounds during the kidnapping.
The four were barred from speaking to the press, with a contingent of the military personnel and security officials from their embassies keeping journalists at bay.
Following the intervention of Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim who was among those at the airport to receive them, one of them, Ms Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, only expressed their joy to have been rescued alive.
“We are happy to be alive, and we are happy to be back,” she said. The four flew in the helicopter together with armed military personnel, and were whisked off to an undisclosed destination after a short briefing from the delegation that received them.
Besides the Deputy Speaker, embassy officials from Norway and Canada and NRC officials were at the airport. According to KDF spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna, KDF and TFG forces came across the kidnappers on Sunday evening.
“They had car-jacked another vehicle, which they were using when they were intercepted by our forces. There was a gun-fight. One of the kidnappers was killed while two others escaped,” he said.
Col Oguna said the rescue of the aid workers followed an intensified search that included an aerial operation that included both military helicopters and other aircraft, while vehicles and troops on foot searched the remote scrubland on either side of the porous border with Somalia.
Col Oguna said the rescued workers were taken to a medical facility in Dobley for examination and treatment before arrangements were made to fly them to Kenya.
“They are exhausted, they have walked far and have blisters, and one of the aid workers was shot in the leg, but otherwise they are in good health,” Col Oguna said.
Since Kenya troops crossed into Somalia in October to fight the Al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents have been behind a series of grenade and improvised device attacks in Kenya.
A number of kidnapping have also been reported in towns along the Kenya-Somali border. This kidnapping was the latest in a series of attacks in Dadaab, where gunmen last October seized two Spaniards working for Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). They are still being held hostage in Somalia.
The abduction of the Spaniards was one of the incidents that spurred Kenya to send troops and tanks into Somalia to fight the hardline Al-Shabaab that Nairobi blames for abductions and cross-border raids.
The decision to allow KDF to move into Somalia came after the kidnapping of Ms Judith Tebbut, a Briton, in Lamu Island last year. Ms Tebbut was held in captive for six months before being released.
Following the Friday kidnap, Kenyan security forces scrambled military helicopters and aircraft after gunmen attacked the NRC convoy at around midday in Dadaab, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Somalia, killing a Kenyan driver and wounding two others.
However, the aid workers’ vehicle seized by the gunmen was found abandoned a few hours after the attack, raising fears that the gang had escaped with the hostages through the remote scrubland.