MOGADISHU (AFP) - A security guard employed by the International Committee of the Red Cross was involved in the kidnapping of a German nurse working for the organisation in Mogadishu, the Somali government said Thursday (May 3).
The nurse, identified as Sonja Nientiet, was abducted from the ICRC compound at around 8pm local time (1am Singapore time) on Wednesday (May 2) evening when unidentified armed men entered its premises.
Security ministry spokesman Abdiaziz Ali Ibrahim said one of the Red Cross security guards was involved, after local staff reported the gunmen had easily managed to sneak Nientiet out through a back entrance into a waiting vehicle.
“She was kidnapped by a member of ICRC’s own security guards in Mogadishu, the kidnapper’s name is Mohamud Mohamed Alas,” he said. “We particularly request the family of the kidnapper to work with the security agencies and inform them of the whereabouts of their son.”
He said security forces had found an abandoned vehicle belonging to the kidnappers, and witnesses told AFP the car had been abandoned with a punctured tyre. It was unclear whether the kidnappers had managed to leave Mogadishu with their hostage.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of our colleague,” said Daniel O’Malley, ICRC’s deputy Somalia head. “She is a nurse who was working every day to save lives and improve the health of some of Somalia’s most vulnerable people.”
Nientiet’s LinkedIn profile says she has worked for the organisation since 2014, with postings in Jordan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
A local ICRC employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two other foreign staff members had been evacuated along with senior Somali staff. The abduction is the second attack on ICRC employees in Somalia in just over a week.
Abdulhafid Yusuf Ibrahim, a Somali national who had worked for the group for only five months, died on March 25 after an improvised bomb exploded beneath his car as he left the ICRC office.
Bombings, assassinations, abductions
Unlike many other international aid agencies working in Somalia, the ICRC does not base itself within the well-defended perimeter of Mogadishu’s airport, which is protected by African Union soldiers.
The airport acts as the city’s “Green Zone” housing foreign embassies and the United Nations which coordinates the humanitarian and political responses to Somalia’s crises.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is visiting Ethiopia and Tanzania this week, told journalists in Addis Ababa he would not comment “on any hostage cases”.
“I have deep respect for all people, especially people from Germany, working abroad in order to help others,” Maas added.
Somalia collapsed into civil war in 1991 and has been wracked by an Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgency since 2006. It is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for aid workers but abductions remain relatively unusual.
In the past, foreigners, including journalists and aid workers, have been kidnapped by armed gangs or Shabaab militants and held for ransom, sometimes for years at a time.
Terrorist bombings and assassinations are common and frequently claimed by the Shabaab, which is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu.
International aid agencies, including the independent Switzerland-based ICRC, provide health care and other basic services in the war-torn country and are regarded as supporters of the government by the Shabaab and as a ready source of income by other militants and armed gangs.
On Tuesday (May 1), a local employee of the World Health Organization (WHO) was shot in Mogadishu. The WHO said in a statement Wednesday it was “shocked and saddened” by the killing of Mariam Abdullahi Mohamed, “a dedicated frontline worker”.
Between 2008 and 2012, piracy off the coast of Somalia became a big business with crew members and their ships held for million-dollar ransoms, but in recent years attacks have become rare.
Gradually improving stability in Somalia allowed the holding of limited elections in 2016 but insecurity remains widespread. In October, Somalia suffered its deadliest-ever bombing, with over 500 people killed in an attack blamed on the Shabaab.