A Norwegian Refugee Council-marked vehicle. NRC employees were abducted and their driver killed in Dadaab refugee camp on June 29. Photo by: Norwegian Refugee Council

Four aid workers abducted at gunpoint in Dadaab June 29 were rescued three days later in Somalia. 

Accounts of the rescue are somewhat conflicting: Some sources say Somali government soldiers stopped a vehicle carrying supplies to the attackers and forced its occupants to lead them to the hostages near the town of Dhobley. The Somali forces and Kenyan military then launched a joint overnight rescue operation.

Other reports indicate a Somali pro-government militia called Ras Kamboni heard about the kidnappings and pursued the gunmen, catching up to them 35 miles inside Somalia in the village of Alu Gulay.  

Sources agree that one of the kidnappers was killed in a gunfight but the other three escaped. One of the aid workers was also shot in the leg during the rescue attempt.

The four Norwegian Refugee Council employees were kidnapped and their driver killed inside the Dadaab refugee camp after gunmen ambushed their convoy. A second driver and an NRC contractor, both Kenyan, were also shot.

The attack occurred around midday in Ifo 2 camp, on a main road close to the NRC compound, in northern Kenya, where Somali refugees have been seeking shelter since last year’s devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. The two vehicles were traveling in convoy from one camp to another when men fired at the first car. NRC Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson was in the first vehicle but was unharmed. No information suggests she was being targeted.

The convoy was supposed to be traveling with a security detail, but canceled those arrangements at the last minute, according to a Kenyan police commander.

Kenyan police pursued the vehicle and later mounted a ground and aerial search. They discovered the abandoned Land Cruiser 18 miles away. The Somali border is approximately 60 miles from Dadaab.

Authorities believe “al-Shabaab sympathizers” were behind the attack, since the actual group stated it was unaware of the incident.

Gunmen kidnapped two Spanish women working for Medecins Sans Frontieres near Ifo camp in October 2011, and the Kenyan government sent troops into Somalia days later. It is unclear whether those two remain in captivity in Somalia or, perhaps, were sold to pirates

The Kenyan government has used insecurity in Dadaab and an inability to vet refugees arriving from Somalia as a reason to keep a third camp closed and bar the registration of newcomers, despite thousands of arrivals last summer. Insecurity has also constrained NGO operations and limited aid provision. It remains to be seen if any NGOs decide to leave Dadaab following this attack.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.

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