Latest information from Kenya says that Kenyan coast guard and navy vessels have cornered the abductors of a French tourism from Manda Island last night and that presently there seems to be a standoff. It is understood that this is still in Kenyan waters and that the abductors have failed to reach the Somali border and cross it.
Additional information has been received from usually well informed sources in Nairobi that a large contingent of Kenyan military personnel has been deployed along the common border with Somalia after some hit and run attacks by suspected Al Shabab militias and other militants, which in a shift of position may see Kenya actively enter the conflict across its border. Serious fighting had broken out in Somali but apparently also spilled over to Kenyan territory where in particular refugee camps are affected and UN and other aid organizations are scrambling for safety. Kenya had long stayed out of the conflict and while hosting Somalia talks and politically supporting the TFG in Mogadishu had not contributed troops to the African Unions peace keeping force so far. However, the murder of a British tourist and the abduction of his wife three weeks ago had prompted a rethink and the overnight reports of the added abduction of a French tourist and the ensuing hot pursuit by Kenyan security forces had probably now turned the tide with Nairobi thinking enough is enough. Al Shabab too is becoming aware of these developments and from again usually well informed sources it is understood that large numbers of fighters are moving towards the Kenyan border, where if they do not stop they will undoubtedly get a hot reception. If any of these developments have a direct connection to the abductions, so as to have hostages as bargaining chips, cannot be at this stage ascertained but from past experience it would be very well within the tactical thinking of Somali militants to have human shields standing between them and Kenyan forces now finally ready to engage militarily with Al Shabab.
News are emerging from a range of sources in Mombasa and Nairobi that a second tourist kidnapping has taken place from the Manda Bay Resort near Lamu, when apparently a French woman was abducted in similar style as the recent kidnapping of a British woman from the Kiwayu Safari Resort three weeks ago.
There is no confirmation at this stage that any shots were fired, unlike at Kiwayu where the husband of the British tourist was killed in the abduction, but this latest development, and in fact nearer to the much better protected Lamu, has the tourism industry in jitters now.
A local member of parliament and the Lamu police chief appear to have confirmed the abduction last night to a Reuters correspondent in Kenya and police and security services are reportedly in pursuit of the abductors who fled by speed boat towards the Somali border in a near repeat of the same pattern three weeks ago.
Tourism sources in Kenya are presently not willing to make any public comments on the matter, citing lack of reliable information though have promised to go on record just as soon as they have been given all the details, but more likely waiting for clearance from government in view of this rather sensitive and potentially very damaging development.
One regular source from Mombasa though did off the record say: if this is true than we, our security forces have failed to blanket the coast from the Somali border to Lamu and towards Malindi with surveillance. Only a few weeks ago we had the case of a British woman being taken, her husband was shot, and now again and from right under our noses in Lamu? It may be the same group who was behind the first kidnapping and all searches in Somali from ground and air have failed to trace them so far and get the British lady back. If we are to survive this incident, if it is at all true because our media in Kenya are not saying anything about it, we need to reassure our tour operators that Kenya is safe, not by words but by action. Still I need to find out if this really is true from my colleagues in Lamu and Malindi. This strip of coast has always been sensitive and we know that Somali groups can stage hit and run attacks. That area should be full of our navy boats and our army on the ground to give us a sense of safety.
Watch this space for forthcoming updates at a later stage when more information has become available from sources on the ground or else through formal statements by the Government of Kenya.