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Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian nuns

Garissa (Kenya), November 10, 2008

Heavily-armed Somali gunmen kidnapped two Italian nuns on Monday in a pre-dawn raid on a remote Kenyan border town, witnesses said.

Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for aid workers, who are often abducted or killed in attacks usually blamed on Islamist insurgents or clan militia.

Cross-border raids are common in the remote, arid region, but usually involve cattle rustlers or bandits targeting local business people in both countries.

One local aid worker in the small town of El Wak said at least 60 kidnappers were involved and that a grenade had been hurled and a rocket fired at a Kenyan police post at about 1 am. (2200 GMT Sunday).

The abducted nuns' missionary group, the Movimento Contemplativo Missionario Padre de Foucauld, named them as 67-year-old Caterina Giraudo, and Maria Teresa Olivero, 60.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said it was providing "every possible form of co-operation with local authorities," and added that the Vatican's nuncio in Kenya was also involved.

The Kenyan Red Cross Society said the gunmen had escaped in three hijacked vehicles, and that it was feared they had taken their captives back across the border into Somalia.

Sheikh Hassan Hussein, chairman of Somalia's neighboring Gedo Region, said he did not know where they had gone or who exactly they were, but he described them as "Somali bandits."

Suspicion for such attacks normally falls on Islamist militants or clan militia, but rebel leaders have said government hardliners are behind the killings to discredit them and stir the international community to intervene.

The abduction came just days after Kenya's army ended an operation to seize illegal firearms in the area. There was no immediate comment from the Kenyan authorities about the raid, which involved many fighters and appeared to be well-planned.

"This wasn't about a simple extortion for money or something similar," said Pino Isoardi, head of the Italian missionary group. He said neither of the kidnapped nuns had notable health problems, and he said no one had been hurt during the abduction.

"They took the sisters but without taking anything from the community, money or anything else," Isoardi told Reuters. His group has worked in the area since 1983, treating sick children as well as adults suffering from tuberculosis and malnourishment.

In the last recent attack on humanitarian staff in lawless Somalia, gunmen in Jamame, north of rebel-held Kismayu port, assassinated a Somali man on Sunday who had been running the local office of the US-based Mercy Corps charity.

Gunmen also stormed an airstrip last week in central Somalia, kidnapping four European aid workers and two Kenyan pilots. Locals said those hostages were taken to Mogadishu.-Reuters




Tags: Kidnap | Somali |

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