GARISSA, Kenya (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped two Spanish women working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp on Thursday, the third abduction of Westerners in Kenya by attackers linked to Somalia in a month.
Kenyan police said they suspected Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents were behind the kidnapping and that security forces had chased the abductors toward the border between the two countries, which has been sealed off.
“Two female aid workers working for MSF were ... kidnapped by suspected al Shabaab militants in Dadaab refugee camp,” North Eastern Province police commander Leo Nyongesa told Reuters.
“We’ve mobilized all the officers and alerted those at the border to ensure that no vehicle exits the country to Somalia. The whole border area is now sealed,” he said.
MSF said a driver was wounded in the attack on its staff.
“He’s currently hospitalized and stable. Two international staff are missing. A crisis team has been set up to deal with this incident,” MSF said in a statement.
A spokesman at the Spanish foreign ministry confirmed the missing women were Spanish.
The kidnapping took place within weeks of two separate incidents that saw Somali gunmen seize Western female tourists from beach resorts in northern Kenya.
Dadaab, located about 100 km for the Somali border, was set up in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing violence in their country. It has since grown to become the world’s biggest refugee camp with more than 400,000 residents.
“Officers are in hot pursuit. We have received information that they have sped toward the Somali border,” said Nelson Kaliti, deputy police commander for Dadaab district.
The kidnapping will put further pressure on the Kenyan government to beef up defenses along its porous frontier and risks further hurting the tourism sector, one of the country’s top foreign currency earners.
Britain has already issued a travel advisory warning against all but essential travel within 150 km of the Somali border, which includes the popular Lamu archipelago where a French woman and a British woman were seized in the past few weeks.
Additional reporting by Nour Ali in Isiolo; Yara Bayoumy, Humphrey Malalo and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Tom Miles in Geneva and Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana in Madrid; Editing by David Clarke and Peter Graff