Three aid workers — two Italians and a Somali — were kidnapped by gunmen yesterday in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, a security official and a local elder said.
“Three aid workers, among them two Italians, a man and a woman, were kidnapped early this morning by armed men who blindfolded them and took them away,” Mohamed Ibrahim Ali said.
A local security official confirmed the kidnapping and said the security forces were trying to locate the hostages.
“We are currently investigating who kidnapped them and where they were taken,” Ali Mohamed Gele said.
The kidnapping took place at around 6:30am in the village of Awdhegle, 70km south of the capital Mogadishu.
The three humanitarians were in Somalia working for an Italian non-governmental organization called Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud (CINS), or North-South Italian Cooperation, both officials said.
The elder said the third hostage was Abderahman Yusuf Arale, the local head of the Italian aid group.
Aid workers, including foreigners, have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups in Somalia in recent months.
The spate of kidnappings and killings has complicated the delivery of aid to the most affected populations in the Horn of Africa country, where the UN says one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes is unfolding.
On May 13, gunmen abducted a Kenyan teaching at Mogadishu University.
Kidnappers are also holding two aid workers: a Kenyan and a Briton, seized last month in southern Somalia whose whereabouts remain unknown.
Earlier this month, gunmen killed a truck driver working for the World Food Programme in central Somalia.
The UN and aid groups have scaled down operations in Somalia owing to increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a deadly guerrilla war since they were ousted by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces early last year.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International has pleaded with the militants to end the kidnapping and killing of foreign workers in Somalia — a nation where 2.6 million Somalis, including 1 million displaced people, require help to feed themselves.
Earlier this month, Islamist rebels pledged to kill foreigners and pro-government supporters after US airstrikes killed their leader Aden Hashi Ayro, who was accused of being the al-Qaeda leader in the country.
The UN is trying to build trust between the government and moderate Islamists at talks that were launched on May 12 in Djibouti.