Kenya says kidnapping provocation by al Shabaab

Oct 3, 2011, 10:22 a.m.
Marie Dedieu and her Kenyan boyfriend John Lepapa are pictured together at an undisclosed location in this undated handout photo released to Reuters, before Dedieu was kidnapped from Ras-Kitau on Manda island and held hostage. REUTERS/Handout

By Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya said on Monday the weekend kidnapping of a French woman was a serious provocation by Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab group which threatens the east African country's multi-million dollar tourism industry.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti also warned that those behind the kidnapping "and all others who are trying to provoke Kenya have made a big mistake and will live to regret it."

In the second such kidnapping in recent weeks, gunmen stormed the private home of 66-year-old, wheelchair-bound Marie Dedieu on the northern coast island of Manda on Saturday.

They then grabbed and carried her to a waiting boat that crossed into Somalia, where the al Qaeda-allied rebels are in control of large swathes of the south and center.

Analysts and diplomats in the region had warned that Somali pirates were likely to turn to softer targets, such as tourists in Kenya, in response to more robust defense of merchant vessels by private security guards.

Early last month, gunmen attacked British tourists at a camp resort a short speedboat ride away from northern Kenya's Lamu archipelago, killing a man and kidnapping his wife.

Last week, fighting also erupted on the Somali-Kenyan border, raising pressure on Kenya's authorities to beef up their defenses against cross-border and sea-based attacks which threaten to hit a tourism industry that earned 74 billion shillings ($737 million) in 2010.

"This is a serious provocation on Kenya's territorial integrity by the al-Shabaab with negative effects on the tourism industry and generally also on our own investment," Saitoti told reporters.


Saitoti announced increased security measures near Lamu, an island resort town which is about 100 kilometers from the Somali border, including 24-hour aerial surveillance and the deployment of additional navy vessels.

"All entry and departures by boats will be regulated through a common security point," he said, adding that any speedboats defying orders to stop would be "disabled," without elaborating on the measures.

Hotel operators fear tourists may cancel their bookings due to governments' travel warnings, threatening a sector which is a leading foreign exchange earner and employs many Kenyans.

About a 100 people took to the streets of Lamu to protest against the government's lax security measures and called for greater cooperation with British and French security forces to prevent a repeat of the kidnappings.

"Kenyan police should employ us locals to patrol the water because we can swim and we know the area," said Pius Ndung'a, a construction worker who joined the protest in Lamu.

Dedieu's kidnappers escaped with their hostage after a maritime gun battle with Kenyan security forces, in which Saitoti said two kidnappers had been shot dead.

"The disabled French woman is here and she is very fine, we are keeping her between lower Juba and middle, we are not al Shabaab and we are looking for ransom money," a former al Shabaab fighter who operates with a pirate group in the southern port town of Kismayu told Reuters.

"We have not agreed how much yet. Some of us are waiting to take her in to a different zone," he said. Reuters could not independently verify his account.

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