1 Oct 2011

Somali gunmen escape with French hostage

Somali kidnappers who seized an elderly French hostage have escaped into Somalia after a gun battle with Kenyan security forces.

French woman kidnapped on north Kenya coast. (Getty)

Several abductors were wounded in the clash before crossing the border, according to Kenya’s tourism minister Najib Balala.

“They’ve crossed the border into Ras Kamboni. There are two aircraft on top of them monitoring their position,” he said.

“We can see that a few of the (kidnappers) are injured. They are 25km away from the Kenya border,” he added.

The armed gang kidnapped the 66-year-old disabled woman from a private house in the Lamu archipelago in the early hours of Saturday.

The woman’s companion, John Lepapa, a 39-year-old Kenyan, said that six masked gunmen armed with rifles stormed their beach house on Manda island, first rounding up the staff at gunpoint.

Girlfriend’s pleas

They then ordered them and their house-helpers to lie face down on the floor, before one of the gunmen grabbed the wheelchair-bound woman and carried her to a waiting boat.

“All they were saying was ‘where is the foreigner, where is the foreigner’,” said Mr Lepapa, adding that he had been questioned by counter-terrorism police several hours after the attack.

“My girlfriend pleaded with them and told them to take whatever they wanted from the house, including the money and to spare her life,” he said, “but they would not listen.”

A close associate of the couple said the hostage had been battling cancer and was without much-needed medication.

Her abduction is the second violent capture of a foreign visitor from the Lamu archipelago in three weeks.

On 11 September British tourist Judith Tebbutt was kidnapped at a Kenyan beach resort after her husband was murdered.

David Tebbutt, 58 and Judith, 56, were staying at the remote Kiwayu Safari Village, close to the Somalian border, when they were attacked.

Mr Tebbutt, from Hertfordshire, was shot dead and his wife was abducted by the gang.

France has advised against all travel to the archipelago and warned against sailing along Kenya’s coast due to the high risk of pirates.

Read more: Briton killed and wife kidnapped on dream holiday in Kenya