Business, Finance & Economics

Kenya: Lamu island hit by new kidnapping


The waterfront in historic Lamu Town, off the coast of Kenya.


Erin Conway-Smith

Kenya's Lamu Island was hit by another violent kidnapping Saturday.

A disabled French woman was taken by armed gunmen from her beach house on Manda Island, close to Shela Village on Lamu, according to the BBC. She was taken to Somalia and Kenyan officials say it is believed she is being held by the Islamist extremist rebels of Al Shabaab.

Some abductors were injured in a shootout with two Kenyan ships trying to stop them, according Kenyan officials.

The kidnap comes three weeks after a British couple were attacked further north at the exclusive Kiwayu resort. Gunmen shot dead David Tebbutt and kidnapped his wife, Judith. She was taken across the border to Somalia.

The gunfire from Saturday's kidnapping on Manda Island was heard across the water at Shela Beach, which is frequented by Monaco's Princess Caroline, Naomi Campbell, Robert De Niro and other tourists.

Two coastguard vessels and a police helicopter chased the abductors, and were involved in an exchange of fire, said Internal Security Minister George Saitoti. He said several of the kidnappers were injured but they still managed to enter Somali territory in a motor boat.

"Every effort" was being made to rescue the woman, said Saitoti.

Kenya's Tourism Minister Najib Balala called for international assistance to help them in their efforts to secure the border with Somalia.

"The core problem is Somalia and the core problem is criminal elements who manage to sneak into the country," he told the BBC.

"Whatever we're going to do, if we don't have the support of the international community to address the Somali issue then it is very challenging to manage to man the border in Somalia," said Balala.

The two kidnappings are a heavy blow to Lamu Island, which has enjoyed a reputation as an enchanted tourist destination off Kenya's northern coast and far removed from the troubles of nearby Somalia.

In addition to the kidnappings, there are reports from Lamu that Somali gangs in boats had been seen at least twice in the last 10 days close to Kiwayu. The Kiwayu resort of 18 cottages has closed.

There are already calls from tourism operators for the Kenyan government to launch a major security operation to stop the gangs from getting anywhere near these resorts.

France has warned French visitors to avoid the area. 

"It is advised against staying on the Lamu archipelago and its region near the Somali border," the French foreign ministry said on its website.

Other tourism advisories from major Western countries are expected to follow.