Payback? Expat UN consultants killed in Somalia

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 08 April 2014

A police checkpoint in Mogadishu, where security has tightened after militant group al-Shabaab attacked Somalia’s Supreme Court in April 2013. Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers. Photo by: Tobin Jones / United Nations

The United Nations suffered on Monday the loss of two of its international consultants, gunned down in northern Somalia.

The pair were a British and a French national working for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime who had just arrived in Galkayo — where aid worker kidnappings have been rampant in the past — when the attack happened. One of them died immediately after the shooting on the airstrip, while the other succumbed to gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital.

The chief of UNODC, the U.N. Security Council and British Foreign Secretary William Hague all condemned the attack and demanded Somali authorities launch an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.

It's still unclear who was behind the incident, or the motive, but some reports suspect a deranged policeman and others militants from al-Shabaab, which is currently dealing with an offensive carried out by U.N.-backed African Union and Somali forces. The militant group linked to al-Qaida controls a huge portion of the country, hampering humanitarian and development work in the areas it controls.

Al-Shabaab has kicked out a number of international aid organizations from its strongholds over the past few years, spearheaded several attacks against United Nations facilities and staff, the most recent a suicide assault against a U.N. humanitarian aid convoy just two months ago.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers. Afghanistan recorded more attacks in 2012, but Somalia had the highest “attack rate” given the very low number of aid workers in the country, according to the latest Humanitarian Outcomes' Aid Worker Security Report.

A spokesman for al-Shabaab did not confirm — nor deny — it was behind the latest incident, but urged "all Somalis to target the United Nations,” while UNODC has yet to release a statement on whether it plans to suspend activities in the region following the attack.

Is the international community's military offensive affecting aid organizations' work in Somalia? How can donors and aid agencies work to reduce such security threats on their staff, which also often hamper their work? Please share us your thoughts by leaving a comment below, joining our LinkedIn discussion or sending an email to

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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