12 Sep 2011

Kidnap of Briton by militants ‘most worrying scenario’

Somali militants could be responsible for killing a British man in Kenya and kidnapping his wife, a Chatham House expert tells Channel 4 News.

David Tebbutt was shot dead and his wife Judith kidnapped while they were staying in an isolated Kenyan resort near the Somali border. The couple, from Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, were on holiday at Kiwayu Safari Village.

Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa researcher at London think tank Chatham House, told Channel 4 News the “most worrying scenario” was Judith Tebbutt being held by Somali militant group al-Shabaab, but said there were other possibilities.

“It could be a pirate gang, a criminal gang or it could be criminals from Kenya. They’re all possible scenarios. We have to wait and see what sort of demand we get. In most kidnap situations, a demand will follow after a while,” he said.

Mr Middleton said that while al-Shabaab controlled southern Somalia, its grip on the region was under threat, with Kenyan-backed militias fighting the organisation. With its hold now being challenged, “criminal opportunists” were being given “more room to operate”.

Lamu in Kenya, near the site where the David Tebbutt was killed and his wife Judith kidnapped (Getty)


In October 2009, Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Tunbridge Wells, were kidnapped by Somali pirates as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania.
They spent 388 days in captivity and were released in November 2010 after a ransom of up to £620,000 was paid.

Mr Middleton said the attack on the Tebbutts was “perhaps not completely unforeseen”, adding: “Since the piracy issue has blown up, people have warned that Kenya is a place where pirates could go and pick up people on the beach. Fortunately that hasn’t been a problem up to now.”

Judith Tebbut 'taken to Somalia'
"There has been fierce fighting between al-Shabaab and government forces along the Kenya-Somalia border in the last few days, and with Kenya supporting the government side, it is possible al-Shabaab could have wanted to send out a warning to Kenya that its vital tourism industry is vulnerable."

Read more on where Judith Tebbutt may have been taken in this blog from Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman

Kiwayu Safari Village, where the Tebbutts were staying, has taken down its website. Before the incident, it said it took “security and safety very seriously”, adding: “We regularly review our security and safety to ensure it is both comprehensive and current.”

The specialist travel company, Audley, features Kiwayu on its website, but said it rarely used it. A spokesman told Channel 4 News: “The last time we had someone there was in 2010 – one couple. From our point of view, it was off our radar of regular places. Kiwayu is out of the back of beyond.”

In the short term, Audley had no intention of using the resort after what had happened, he said.

Foreign Office advice

The Foreign Office advises travellers to Kenya to avoid the area near the border with Somalia. The Tebbutts were attacked about 30 miles from the border, but the Foreign Office says people should stay 18 miles (30 kilometres) away from the frontier.

“We continue to advise against all but essential travel to within 30 km of Kenya’s border with Somalia. There have been previous attacks by Somali militia into Kenya. Three aid workers were kidnapped in July 2009, and two western nuns in November 2008.

“Cases of kidnapping have increased since mid-2009 in Nairobi and some other major towns. Some have been opportunist crimes linked to car-jackings, while others appear to have been more organised.”

ABTA, which represents travel companies, said the incident had happened in “an area which the UK Foreign Office has been advising against travel for a number of years due to safety concerns”.

It added: “Kenya is generally a safe and hospitable country which attracts thousands of UK holidaymakers. The main safari areas and resorts along the Indian Ocean, which the vast majority of UK holidaymakers visit, are safe and keen to welcome customers.”