Gunmen Demand $1 million Ransom for Kidnapped Aid Workers

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MOGADISHU–Twenty-five masked gunmen, who captured three aid workers over the weekend, have demanded $1 in ransom money.

The drama is unfolding in Somalia, which is suffering with some of the world’s harshest living conditions. Although the country has 3 million people dependent on food aid, it is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers.

Humanitarian operations have been forced to decrease, due to attacks. These attacks were usually blamed on Islamist rebels or clan militias.

“We came back this morning with empty hands,” said an elder local, Aden Isak Ali, who is from the town of Radhure. Gunmen had seized a medical team who worked with the charity MSF-Belgium nearby. MSF stands for Medecins San Frontiers, which is the French name for Doctors Without Borders. MSF is an international medical group that works in more than 60 countries and gives medical treatment and aid to people “threated by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.”

Witness Abdirahman Isaq was in the convoy when it was stopped between Radhure and the town of Wajid in central Somalia. The group of kidnappers, who had cloth wrapped around their lower faces, motioned for the vehicle to keep passing but captured the two foreigners.

Isaq said the aid workers were not hesitant at first, because roadblocks where militias extort money and check for rival gunmen are common in lawless Somalia.

“The gunmen who hijacked MSF aid workers told us this morning that they will only release the foreign workers if they are given one million U.S. dollars as ransom,” he said.

Those kidnapped were confirmed to be two male doctors from Doctor Without Borders, one from Belgium and the other from Holland. A local MSF worker also reported that a Somalian employee was also present among the several hostages..

“We have witness confirmation that they have been kidnapped,” an MSF official said.

The charity CARE International ceased all activities in south-central Somalia late last year because of the violent threats. Masked gunmen had killed a former local employee of the charity in the central town of Merka.

There has been widespread violence that over the last two years has uprooted more than one million people. The nation has been in civil strife since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.

 

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