Troops rescue kidnapped aid workers

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UPDATED: Four aid workers for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Kenya were found and rescued by Somalian security forces after being kidnapped in an attack on a council convoy just before the weekend. Among them was 33-year-old Norwegian Astrid Sehl, a communications worker for the council.

Their rescue was as dramatic as their abduction, according to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), with one of the alleged kidnappers shot and killed in a gun battle and one of the four aid workers shot in the leg.

“Our forces have saved the four aid workers … in a rescue action during the night,” a Somalian colonel told news bureau Reuters. The Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation reported that one of the workers, though, was wounded in the rescue operation.

“They’re exhausted, they’ve had a long ordeal and one is shot in the leg, but otherwise they’re in good shape,” a spokesman for the Kenyan army told the paper.

The council (Norsk Flyktninghjelpen) had refused to confirm either the identities or nationalities of the aid workers who were kidnapped when their convoy was attacked on Friday at Dadaab in Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp that is sheltering hundreds of thousands of refugees from hunger and violence across the border in Somalia. On Monday the four were identified as Sehl, originally from Hurum west of Oslo; Steven Dennis, age 37, and Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadozi, age 38, from Canada; and Glenn Costes, age 40, from the Philippines. It was Costes who was wounded during their rescue.

Sehl is a former journalist for Norwegian media including newspaper Drammens Tidende, VG and TV2. Former colleagues told newspaper Aftenposten that her “burning desire” to communicate the difficult situation of refugees led her to start working for the council in 2005. She has also worked for UNICEF and for the UN in Burma (Myanmar).

Much of the credit for the hostages’ safe and relatively quick return was given to the local regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is from Somalia and used his network of acquaintances to help both Kenyan and Somalian troops track down the kidnappers.

Kenyan authorities also cooperated closely with council officials, who had said they were pleased with the response they were getting to Friday’s attack on their convoy, which left one council driver dead and two other council workers wounded. Col. Cyrus Oguna of the Kenyan army told news bureau AFP that the four abducted aid workers were freed during the night on Sunday. They were then flown to Nairobi on a Kenyan military helicopter.

They were found after Somalian government soldiers patrolling the border area to Kenya stopped a car that allegedly was carrying supplies for the group that attacked the convoy on Friday. A Somalian colonel said the soldiers detained the car’s occupants and demanded they show the soldiers where the kidnappers were holding their four hostages, in an area just over the border from Kenya between Diff and Dhobley. VG Nett reported that one of the kidnappers was shot and killed during the rescue operation.

Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary general of the council who was in Kenya and witnessed the attack on Friday, said details of the operation remained sketchy and she and her colleagues mourned the death of their driver. All were “incredibly relieved,” however, over the hostages’ rescue, she said. She said the hostages had been relatively well-treated by their abductors, had been given food and water and were allowed to rest despite a long march after their car broke down. The abductors were reported to be part of a group seeking financial gain, not terrorists.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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