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Somali gunmen demand $1 million for aid workers

By Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Gunmen have demanded a $1 million ransom for the release of three aid workers taken over the weekend in Somalia, a local elder said on Monday.

“We came back this morning with empty hands,” said elder Aden Isak Ali from Rabdhure town, near where gunmen seized a medical team from the charity MSF-Belgium.

“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.

Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers and is suffering one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies, with 3 million people dependent on food aid.

Attacks on relief organizations, normally blamed on Islamist rebels or clan militias, have forced groups to scale back on humanitarian operations.

A leader of the militant al Shabaab Islamist group, which governs the south-central Bakol region where the kidnapping happened, said his forces had tried to chase after the gunmen.

“Our forces tried to free the aid workers, but we came back to Hudur town,” said Sheikh Aden Yare in Hudur, the Bakol capital.

“The kidnappers went with the foreigners out of the region and so we could not reach them. Our car overturned in the course of tracing them, and six of our fighters were injured,” he told Reuters.

MSF in Brussels confirmed that two male doctors from Belgium and Holland had been kidnapped. A local MSF worker has said a Somali employee had also been taken.

In a separate attack, masked gunmen killed a former local employee of CARE International in the central town of Merka at the weekend. The charity suspended all activities in south-central Somalia late last year due to threats.

Fighting in Somalia over the last two years has uprooted more than one million people. The nation has been mired in civil strife since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

-Additional reporting by Mohamed Ahmed and Brussels bureau

(Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Angus MacSwan)



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