Aid Worker Kidnapping in Somalia is a reminder of an enduring threat

Unidentified gunmen broke into the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu on 3 May 2018, and kidnapped Sonja Nientiet, a German nurse working for the organisation. According to data from NYA’s Kidnap for Ransom database, the abduction is the first reported kidnapping of a foreign aid worker in Somalia since 2014 and the first of a Western aid worker since 2011. Following the incident, the ICRC temporarily suspended activities in Mogadishu, but Somali staff are to continue operating outside of the capital.


The ICRC compound from which Nientiet was kidnapped is outside the secure perimeter of Mogadishu airport where most aid agencies and embassies are located. It is therefore exposed to threats prospering in Somalia’s unstable security environment. Socioeconomic conditions, the ongoing withdrawal of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and a weak rule of law have contributed to substantial volatility and facilitated the carrying out of robberies and kidnappings by armed groups throughout the country. An unprecedented drought has also led to mass internal displacement – Amnesty International estimated 943,000 internally displaced people at the end 2017 – making swathes of the population vulnerable to the activities of criminals and terrorist groups.


The Islamist militant group al-Shabaab (AS) acts with practical impunity throughout Somalia’s southern region and retains the motivation and capability to carry out high-profile attacks in Mogadishu. At the time of writing, no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping though NYA statistics indicate AS has perpetrated at least four kidnap incidents targeting Somali employees of NGOs since 2015. In the last reported incident on 15 July 2017, AS militants abducted seven aid workers near Baidoa town in the Bay region and subsequently demanded a USD200,000 ransom for their release. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the prevailing and unifying idea of AS is “opposition to the Western backed government” and by extension they view individuals representing agencies supported by the UN and Western governments as legitimate targets.

Although Somali and AMISOM forces defeated AS in Mogadishu during August 2011, AMISOM’s gradual withdrawal from Somalia and AS’s effective use of guerrilla tactics have ensured that the group remains a threat. On 14 October 2017, AS conducted its most deadly attack to date, when two truck bombings in Mogadishu killed over 500 people and injured at least 300 others. Ongoing and frequent attacks in the capital suggest that the group retains a significant level of operational capability that is unlikely to diminish in the short term.


Kidnapping for ransom is just one of the many illicit ways in which AS funds its operations along with extortion, taxation and contraband smuggling. A continued financial impetus for militants to perpetrate abductions shall guarantee that both foreign and domestic nationals associated with foreign agencies and NGOs will face a severe kidnap threat in Mogadishu. In addition to AS, criminal elements also remain active in Somalia’s fragile security environment that is most apparent outside of the capital. Somalian Army and AMISOM forces have struggled to exert control in rural areas and poorly secured highways between towns present an opportunity for groups to perpetrate attacks.


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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from NYA authored by Alison Burrell. Read the original post at: