LOST WITHOUT TRACE

Why can't we find Cuban doctors, Italian aid worker?

Cases of foreigners being kidnapped on Kenyan soil date back to late 1980s. The abductions peaked in 2011, forcing Kenya to send its forces to Somalia

In Summary

• The government says it will not pay ransom for the two doctors abducted on April 12.

• Search for Italian woman ongoing since she was kidnapped on November 20 last year.

Italian volunteer Sylvia Romano, who was abducted on November 20 last year from Malindi, Kilifi county
Italian volunteer Sylvia Romano, who was abducted on November 20 last year from Malindi, Kilifi county
Image: COURTESY

On April 12, terrorist kidnappers struck yet again, as two Cuban doctors were abducted by al Shabaab militia.

That sent shivers through the country, with foreign governments advising their nationals to exercise caution in areas near Somalia. But that’s standing advice. Of course, the kidnappings haven't helped relations with Havana.

Dr Assel Herera Correa and Dr Landy Rodriguez were headed to work at the Mandera County Referral Hospital in a county government car when they were ambushed.

 
 
 

One AP officer was killed and another officer attached to the Kenya Police injured.

Since then, clan elders and the Kenyan and Somali governments have been trying to secure their release.

This was the second time in five months the country had awakened to such kidnappings.

The militia managed to escape to neighbouring Somalia, but we have mobilised all security agencies, who are in pursuit
police spokesman Charles Owino 

On November 20, 2018, gunmen attacked Chakama shopping centre in Kilifi county. They kidnapped Italian aid worker Silvia Romano, 23, at the centre in Makongeni, Malindi town. 

Romano was a volunteer working for Africa Milele Onlus. Police have been unable to find her.

A multi-agency operation to rescue her led to the arrest of 14 people, who were taken for police interrogation.

 
 
 

The search is still on, but police have rejected claims Romano has been taken to Somalia. 

There's also talk that she was part of an ivory-smuggling deal gone sour.

FIRST MAJOR CASE

Cases of foreigners being kidnapped on Kenyan soil date back to the late 1980s, but Kenya’s first high-profile kidnapping took place in 1998.

A gang of three men kidnapped a Nairobi tycoon on April 30 that year. The three — a computer programmer, a university graduate and the tycoon’s former employee — would later become the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons.

Alois Kimani, James Wamae and Kenneth Kinyanjui thought they had hit the jackpot after abducting Simba Colt Motors and Imperial Bank chairman Abdul Popat. They demanded a Sh200 million ransom. 

Popot reportedly was held at a house in Karen. Reports indicate that although the three kidnappers were unemployed, they had rented the house just for the job.

Popat, 72, was abducted as he left work at around 5.30pm, accompanied by the bank’s MD Abdul Mohammed and driver Stephen Kamau.

Kimani, a former employee of Simba Colt and leader of the group, is said to have provided details of Popat’s movements.

Police records indicate that the three tracked Popats movement for over a month as they worked out the kidnap plot.

The kidnappers rushed him to Kikuyu Mission Hospital and even gave him Sh3,000. In the meantime, they asked Popat for Sh200 million. They wanted the ransom dropped off at the Nairobi War Cemetery or City Park, Parklands. After tough negotiations, they agreed on Sh6 million, after which they would set him free

By then, Kimani is said to have been on police radar for having been sentenced to death for robbery with violence, but released on bond upon appeal.

Before the kidnapping, The Standard newspaper reported that the three had parked their car near Popat’s home and lay in wait.

“Immediately they saw the Mitsubishi Galant Saloon car approaching, they forced it off the road. As it landed in a ditch, they pulled out Popat, his driver and the managing director and forced them into their car, a BMW 320. They then took him to the Karen homestead,” read an article in the newspaper.

It is said the kidnap ordeal, described as a dramedy, lasted three days before they were arrested.

“At the home, they treated him well, even allowing him to call his wife and assure her he was safe. His driver, Kamau, was kept in a separate room. He tried to escape through the roof and fell,” the report said.

It also said the gangsters could not leave anything to chance. They insisted they write a ‘contract’ stating those terms, which Popat signed.

“If I don’t pay you, you know where to pick me,” Popat told them. Promising to drop him off at a place of his choice, they gave him Sh1,000 to use for a taxi home. However, the plot did not work, as they found the spot teeming with policemen.

Since then, the DCI  has described the rescue mission as the largest and most well-coordinated in the region. Popat was rescued, while the mastermind behind the kidnap was killed and two accomplices arrested. 

OTHER CASES

Kenya is among African countries grappling with the fight to bring to an end such abductions targeting foreigners.

Such kidnaps could ruin a country's reputation as a safe destination. Other high-profile cases Kenya has suffered include:

Judith and David Tebbutt

In September 2011, six gunmen ambushed Judith and David Tebbutt’s room in Kiwayu beach resort, Lamu county, killing the husband and kidnapping his wife.

Police launched a manhunt and after eight days, police arrested Ali Kololo, a Kenyan man who reported the crime.

Kololo was charged wih being in communication with the abductors.

Tebbutt was released by the kidnappers, who were believed to be pirates, on March 2012 after his family successfully raised and paid the ransom demanded by her captors.

Marie Dedieu

In October 2011, al Shaabab militia abducted another French woman.

Marie Dedieu, 66, was kidnapped from her beachfront bungalow in Manda, also in Lamu county.

A search was launched but Dedieu died in the hands of the kidnappers, who had taken her to Somalia.

She was a recovering cancer patient under medication.

Blanca Thiebaut and Montserrat Serra

In the same month, two Spanish female aid workers for Medecins Sans Frontieres, Blanca Thiebaut and Montserrat Serra, were kidnapped at the Dadaab refugee camp near Somalia.

They were taken to Somalia.

The abduction, the final straw, pushed the Kibaki administration to send its forces to Somalia to battle al Shabaab.

The two were rescued in 2013, two years after abduction and were safe and healthy.

Miscellaneous cases

In 2010, a Canadian man was kidnapped in Gigiri by a gang of men, who then demanded a ransom of Sh10 million.

The authorities rescued him after four days.

In the same year, an Ethiopian woman was rescued by police in Ngara, Nairobi.

She had been abducted by a gang who demanded Sh3 million.

Still in 2010, November, two Asian men were kidnapped by thugs in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. They said they were members of the Mungiki.

Their families had to pay Sh100,000 for their release.