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Africa

French security agents now held by Islamist rebels

©

Video by J. Fanciulli and N. Rushworth

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-11-16

Islamist insurgents are holding two French security consultants after receiving them from armed gunmen linked to the government, police sources say. The two men, who were posing as reporters, were abducted Tuesday from a Mogadishu hotel.

Reuters - One of Somalia’s militant Islamist rebel groups was holding two French security men on Wednesday after receiving them from abductors linked to the government, police said.

 

Gunmen from an Islamist faction within President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s security forces seized the two in a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday, then handed them to Hizbul Islam insurgents, senior police officer Abdiqadir Odweyne told Reuters.

 

Hizbul Islam was now arguing over the Frenchmen’s fate with another militant rebel group, al Shabaab, whom western security services view as al Qaeda’s proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state that has been mired in conflict since 1991.

 

“Al Shabaab wants to take the Frenchmen from Hizbul Islam, they are on the verge of fighting,” said Odweyne.

 

“Al Shabaab wants to kill the Frenchmen and Hizbul Islam refuses. The situation is not good.”

 

With the rebels battling government troops on a daily basis, Mogadishu is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and has a history of kidnappings of foreigners, mainly aid-workers and journalists. Hostages are normally released for ransom.

 

The Somali government said the two Frenchmen were posing as reporters while working as security consultants to train presidential security guards. Gunmen burst into a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday and went door-to-door until they found them.

 

The police officer, Odweyne, said a government minister with close links to the rebels was behind the abduction.

 

City residents and a prominent NGO have repeated that allegation.



Anger at journalist guise

 

The government has not responded specifically to that accusation, but vowed to help ensure a quick release.

 

Somali Defence Minister Mohamed Abdi Gandi told Radio France Internationale the motives for the abduction were financial.

 

“We don’t know their names but we know their affiliation and their group,” he said. “These are people who are armed and who carry out kidnappings to demand ransoms, but these are not political kidnappings.

 

“There is some direct or indirect contact, we are going to try to use several means,” he said.


The head of Paris-based Reporters without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, said it would be scandalous if it is true the two French agents had pretended to be journalists.

 

“If this is confirmed, it is shocking because these are official agents on a mission for the French government who have used the title of journalist as a cover,” he told Reuters.

 

“There are foreign journalists abducted almost every month, there is no need to add any more. Journalists are already in the line of fire in Somalia.”

 

Foreign correspondents in the region were similarly outraged at the idea the two Frenchmen would have posed as reporters. Only a very few correspondents still travel to Somalia, employing dozens of security guards when they do.

 

A more than two-year insurgency has killed at least 18,000 civilians and uprooted one million people in Somalia.

 

Captures of foreigners, however, generally garner world headlines in a way the daily death toll seldom does.
 

Date created : 2009-07-16

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