The first incident — the murder and kidnapping at Kiwayu — was alone brazen enough to seem a declaration of war. As weeks passed it seemed as though that might have been a one-off, an isolated crime of opportunity. Not the handiwork of pirates. Just thugs. Maybe even just local thugs.
Then there was Marie Dedieu. Like an alien abduction, pirates had snatched her from a small community and whisked her off into a black star-less hole. Maybe not a declaration of war, but, surely, a statement. The statement being: your “closed” borders are as porous as pirate’s ratty T-shirt, your navy personnel can’t swim, and your local police are napping at the switch.
JAMBO?! Wake up — Kenya has serious security issues, particularly along the coast, where authorities much patrol both land and sea.
Then, whoa, two more grabbed in Kenya on Thursday. This time aid workers in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, just inside the Kenya border.
Bad weather forced the abductors to abandon their car which got stuck in the mud. Police found the vehicle just inside the Somali border. For an instant, there was a chance police might catch up and rescue the Spanish nationals.
It’s not breaking news that Al Shabab (“Movement of Striving Youth”), a group of Islamic militants, has been thwarting efforts of aid orgs (World Food Program, for one) to deliver food to the famine victims. Not only is it a way for Shabab to make a quick buck selling the donated food in markets, but also of saying “fuck you” to the west aid.
These latest abductors had entered Kenya in the guise of famine victims — wolves in sheep’s clothing — and had been able to case the joint. Like the earlier Lamu kidnappings — it was easy. It’s the proud policy of Medicins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) not to be politically aligned and these aid workers didn’t use security, i.e. armed body guards. And, like Tebbutt and Dedieu, they were women. Soft targets that the pirates/Shabab know will draw sympathy and whose media exposure pressures governments to release them — at a price.
While the first two kidnappings were likely work of pirates, it’s seems pretty clear that the Shabab is behind kidnappings at Dedaab. It’s more or less confirmed that Judith is being held in a famous pirate’s nest north of Mogadishu.
While pirates initially grabbed Marie, Shebab may have recently muscled in on the pirates. Shebab and pirates are supposed to have reached an understanding that for a hefty price pirates are allowed to moor their boats and/or pass through south Somalia, controlled by Shebab. The price is reportedly USD 300K a month.
Since militant group broke up in Mogadishu last spring, they’ve lost their backing from diaspora and other sponsors. Shabab members have dispersed and are now cash-strapped.
The number of piracy attacks has escalated this year, but their success has declined thanks to bad weather and increased security on commercial vessels. The tidy lines dividing the political Shabab groups versus piracy’s extreme capitalism are now blurred when all factions need money. Are individual hostages the new ATM’s? Easy to snatch, easy to stash for quick cash.
With no ransom demand yet either for Judith, Marie, and the other two whose names we don’t yet know, it remains whether Shebab is now operating on the pirate model of strictly business vs a political statement. Let’s hope it’s only for the money.
At least pirates have a financial incentive to keep you alive.
Mercifully, word is that Marie’s captors in a Shebab strong-hold in the south are allowing Red Cross to bring in her cancer medication. It’s not been confirmed whether she’s received it yet. Remember, they’re not permitting her medication out of the goodness of their hearts.
MY ARTICLE,”PIRATES IN PARADISE”, ABOUT THE RECENT SPATE OF KIDNAPPINGS IN KENYA, WILL RUN IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE OF NEWSWEEK magazine. (Will post link once I get it).
Categories: Conflict In Context - Field Notes