Africa

Two Save the Children workers kidnapped in Somalia

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Two Save the Children staff have been kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Somalia, the charity says.

The men, seized from the town of Adado near the Ethiopian border, are a UK security consultant and a local worker.

The Somali was later released, reports said. Locals said the consultant also has Zimbabwean nationality.

The BBC's Mohamed Mwalimu says the kidnapping came amid fierce fighting involving tanks and heavy artillery around Adado.

Local residents have told our correspondent in the capital, Mogadishu, that a moderate Islamist group allied to the UN-backed government seized the town from a local warlord on Friday morning, in clashes which left at least seven people dead.

Pirate link?

One Somalia expert has told the BBC that the group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, attacked Adado in retaliating for the kidnapping.

But the group says it moved in because of an increase in activity there by the hardline Islamist group al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda.

Image caption Government forces have gained ground recently around Mogadishu from al-Shabab

Adado is also closely linked to pirate groups who routinely take ships and crew hostage and demand hefty ransoms.

Until now, Adado had been seen as a relatively stable part of Somalia, with aid groups considering relocating there after being forced out of more volatile regions.

The security consultant had gone there to see if it was safe enough for Save the Children to set up a new base to help malnourished and sick children, along with their families.

But on Thursday evening, a group of masked gunmen stormed the building used as a staff residence.

High walls and a heavy steel gate reportedly forced the kidnappers to climb in through a window before they fled with their hostages into an area said to be controlled by al-Shabab.

Save the Children says it is extremely concerned about the welfare of those being held and calls for their unconditional release.

The British Foreign Office says it is aware of the reports and is urgently investigating.

An official working to resolve the incident later said the Somali man had been released and had communicated with his family, AP news agency reported.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped in Somalia in recent years.

Most have been freed unhurt after a ransom has been paid.

Al-Shabab and its allies control most of southern and central Somalia.

In recent weeks, government forces backed by African Union (AU) peacekeepers, have gained some ground in Mogadishu.

AU officials said on Friday they would ask the UN for an extra 20,000 peacekeeping troops to strengthen the mission in Mogadishu.

The current force - mostly from Uganda and Burundi - is protecting the transitional government against Islamic insurgents.

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