KILIFI, KENYA - Gunmen kidnapped an Italian volunteer and wounded several people, including children in a town along the Kenyan coast, about 100 kilometers north of Mombasa on Tuesday. This is the first abduction of a non-local in six years after a series of abductions carried out by al-Shabab militants in 2011 and 2012.
Eyewitnesses say the men, armed with rifles, seized 23-year-old Silvia Costanza Romano, an Italian volunteer, from a room in the town of Chakama along the Kenya coast.
Then, witnesses say, the attackers shot and wounded a local woman and four children.
Churchill Otieno Onyango, who works with a local non-profit group, says he happened to be in Chakama Tuesday evening and witnessed the abduction.
“The guys who approached the area were three Somalis, two were having guns, one was not having a gun," he said. "The one who grabbed the lady came and slapped the lady and disappeared with the lady. Me and the son of the owner of the house were told to lie down. They managed to shoot one boy inside there, other three outside."
So far no group has claimed responsibility.
Kenya police said they had not identified the attackers.
Kilifi County deputy governor Gideon Saburi — who arrived at the scene Wednesday afternoon — said the government had launched a manhunt for the assailants.
“There is already a team on the ground, so there is team that is following up on the leads that we have. We have also been told that our neighboring counties have been informed up to the borders, so we have an alert that is on,” he said.
The abducted volunteer was working for Africa Milele, which helped orphans and vulnerable children in the area. The non-profit group posted a message on its website saying, “There are no words to comment on what is happening."
The Italian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was aware of the abduction and was looking into the situation.
In 2011, there were several abductions along the Kenyan coast. A British man was shot dead and his wife kidnapped. A couple of weeks later, a French woman was also abducted from Lamu, an island on the Kenyan coast.
The spate of abductions led the country to declare a state of emergency and eventually send troops to fight al-Shabab militants in Somalia.
Despite the presence of Kenya forces in Somalia, the country, particularly towns along the border with Somalia, has continued to experience attacks by the al-Qaida-linked terror group.