Kenyans hunt for kidnappers of Spanish MSF aid workers

The BBC's Nawaz Shah says it is unclear who kidnapped the MSF doctors

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Police in Kenya say they are hunting for the gunmen responsible for abducting two female Spanish aid workers near the Kenya-Somalia border.

Regional police chief Leo Nyongesa said he believed the attackers had come from Somalia and that they were pursuing them by road and air.

The government blames al-Shabab militants for the attack.

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers were taken from Dadaab refugee camp, the world's largest, on Thursday.

The camp lies about 50 miles (80km) from the Somalia-Kenya border and houses nearly half a million refugees fleeing famine in the Horn of Africa.

The aid workers' Kenyan driver was wounded in the attack and is now in hospital, MSF say.

Analysis

As the sprawling complex of Somali refugee camps at Dadaab has become even bigger, with the relentless influx of famine victims from across the border, security has been stepped up too.

Convoys of aid vehicles are a common sight on the dusty roads leading to and from the individual camps. But relief work of all kinds goes on daily across such a large area - in the hands of UN agencies and a host of non-governmental organisations - and it would be a near impossible task to seal the camps and prevent any possible infiltration by militant groups.

This seizure of the MSF vehicle follows other vehicle hijackings. Aid officials say security is being immediately reviewed, with the likelihood that it will prompt more restrictive measures.

But UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic pointed out that this is a particularly critical time in the efforts to contain the famine and the flow of refugees. "The human needs are immense," he said.

In recent weeks, two other foreign women - one English, the other French - have been kidnapped near the border and are believed to have been taken to Somalia.

Al-Shabab denial

Kenyan police say they are confident they will find the gunmen, who they say fled towards Somalia from the camp.

"We are following them by the road and air. We have closed the borders. We are tracking them down," Mr Nyongesa said.

The BBC's Kevin Mwachiro in Nairobi says it is feared that the aid workers may have been taken across the border, which is highly porous.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said police had recovered an abandoned vehicle.

"The Kenyan police acted very quickly today," he said.

"They mobilised not only the local forces but two helicopters, as a matter of fact, the car has been recovered but unfortunately the two colleagues have not yet been found."

The Kenyan government says it believes the al-Shabab militant group, which controls large swathes of Somalia, is behind the attack.

However a senior al-Shabab official, who did not want to be named, denied the accusation.

Antonio Guterres calls for more police at Kenya's Daadab refugee camp

"We heard about the MSF abductions but we were not behind it," the official in southern Somalia told Reuters news agency.

"Nor have they been brought into any area under our control," he said.

The head of MSF in Spain, Jose Antonio Bastos, condemned the attack.

"MSF is in contact with all the relevant authorities and is doing all it can to ensure the swift and safe return of our colleagues.

"Meanwhile, our thoughts are with them and with their families in this difficult time".

MSF has set up a crisis team but says it will not provide any further information for the moment in order to ensure a rapid and safe resolution.

'Complicates aid efforts'

Adan Keynan, chairman of the parliament's defence and foreign relations committee, said he was "deeply shocked and saddened".

"This is a barbaric action, and the people of responsible nations must unite and fight this menace. This is an organised criminal gang who are hell-bent on causing fear and mayhem among people of Kenya," he told Reuters.

The attack happened near the Ifo camp, one of three areas that make up Dadaab. In all, Dadaab now houses 450,000 refugees, making it the equivalent of Kenya's third-largest city.

Correspondents say the attack complicates the humanitarian aid effort that is taking place in Dadaab, which has expanded as a result of the region's worsening food crisis.

The region is experiencing its worst drought in more than half a century. Tens of thousands of people have died.

The UN has declared a famine in six regions of Somalia, most of them under the control of al-Shabab.

Last month, 56-year-old Briton Judith Tebbutt was kidnapped by gunmen from a remote Kenyan resort at Kiwayu. Her husband David was killed.

On 1 October, a 66-year-old French woman was seized by an armed gang on Kenya's northern resort island of Manda and taken to Somalia.

And a Kenyan driver working for the Care charity was abducted from Dadaab on 21 September.

The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the Kenyan coast near the Somali border.

East Africa drought map

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