Mogadishu, Somalia | May 3
As night fell, gunmen sneaked into the International Committee of the Red Cross compound in Somalia’s capital through a back door and seized a German nurse and a local colleague before forcing them outside and into a waiting car.
The daring attack, carried out despite the presence of nearly 10 security guards, struck fear once again into the aid community in Somalia, one of the world’s most dangerous countries for humanitarians. The ICRC said it was evacuating 10 non-Somali staffers to Kenya and “winding down” activities in parts of Somalia outside the capital.
Wednesday night’s abduction of the nurse, identified by a colleague as Sonja Nientiet, came a day after a Somali staffer with the World Health Organization was shot dead at close range in a market elsewhere in Mogadishu. And in March, a local Red Cross staffer died of his injuries after a bomb attached to his vehicle exploded near the aid group’s office.
Hundreds of soldiers were deployed across Mogadishu on Thursday as security officials said they believed the kidnappers had remained in the capital after abandoning their car not far away. The nurse’s Somali colleague told security officers he managed to escape after one of the car’s tires blew out.
“We shall never give up to rescue the hostage,” police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press. The deputy head of the Red Cross delegation in Somalia, Daniel O’Malley, said in a statement that the ICRC was “deeply concerned” and called for the woman’s immediate release.
“She is a nurse who was working every day to save lives and improve the health of some of Somalia’s most vulnerable people,” he said.
While security officials said the ICRC compound’s security guards had been detained, suspicion fell on what the spokesman for Somalia’s internal security ministry, Abdulaziz Hildhiban, called “a disgruntled former employee.” He said the suspect is known and “the government is chasing their whereabouts.”
The area where the abduction occurred is home to several aid agencies and is considered one of the safest neighborhoods in Mogadishu. Safety, however, is relative in a city that is often targeted by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which in October killed more than 500 people with a truck bombing on a busy street.