Somalia's Prime Minister has condemned the kidnapping of two Spanish doctors from the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, in an attack blamed on the Somali militant group al-Shabab. Tthe kidnapping has raised concerns about security in the sprawling camps.
The doctors working with the aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiere) were abducted in broad daylight Thursday afternoon after finishing their work in the Ifo 2 camp in Dadaab, Kenya.
Police say it is likely the two women were taken into neighboring Somalia, which is only 80 kilometers away from where they were attacked.
Suspicions have fallen on the Somali militant group, al-Shabab, which is active in areas of Somalia close to the Kenyan border.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali says he has sympathy for the victims, but could not confirm who was responsible.
“All we have is that preliminary information, I'm not privy to any inside information about the incident, but we are looking into it and we will try to help as much as we can," said Ali. "And we are still gathering information about who might be responsible but we don't have an indication of who did it.”
In an earlier statement, Ali did decry what he called the “continuous threats of Al-Shabab terrorists” to refugees and aid workers.
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government has very little presence in southern Somalia, and no capacity to police the border. But Prime Minister Ali says his country will do what it can.
“So the best we can do now is to condemn this act, and all we can do in terms of moral support and in terms of intelligence gathering, we will do our best to help,” Ali added.
The kidnapping came just three weeks after another aid worker, a driver for the group CARE, was kidnapped from Dadaab.
The spate of violence is spreading fear among the more than 460,000 refugees living in the camps.
Hassan Bashir, a resident refugee, says he is concerned the violence will disrupt the aid effort.
“For us, we are very scared as the refugees in the camps and we are really facing insecurity problems," said Bashir. "This is very very bad for us. Because it is affecting the people that are always helping us here, and they are targeted. You know, it is a very very bad condition.”
The United Nations temporarily suspended some of its aid operations in the camp Friday to reassess the security situation. Other groups, including Oxfam and CARE, have taken similar measures.
Kenyan police have said the gunmen in Thursday's attack came from within the refugee camps.
Bashir confirmed that al-Shabab militants are living among other refugees inside Dadaab, and says rumors abound about who was responsible for the recent attacks.
“We can see that these people are with us, and we don't know who they are. And maybe somebody is hiding somewhere in the camps and then in the night or maybe in the daytime you don't know what he is carrying or what he is going to do," Bashir said. "So actually we are saying it is [up to] the government to do the efforts to control these kinds of security problems we're experiencing in the camps.”
Somali militants have also been blamed for kidnapping two other westerners and killing another in the past two months in the Kenyan resort town of Lamu.
Kenyan police have vowed to increase enforcement at the border with Somalia in response to the attacks in Lamu.