14 Sep 2011

Militants deny kidnapping British woman in Kenya

A Somali Islamist group denies kidnapping a British woman at a remote holiday resort in Kenya.

“Al-Shabaab has not abducted any Briton from Kenya. We believe bandits carried out the attack,” a senior al-Shabaab official told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Gunmen shot dead Faber & Faber publishing executive David Tebbutt and abducted his wife Judith from Kiwayu Safari Village on Sunday. An al-Shabaab recruitment officer in Kismayu, southern Somalia, said Mrs Tebbutt had been brought to the port city on Tuesday, but her whereabouts were now unknown.

She said she believed the attack was carried out by militia fighters normally sympathetic to the militant group, but on this occasion funded by local pirate financiers. “Pirate investors provided a boat and weapons for the raid. The pirate gang want now to demand a ransom, but al-Shabaab are against the idea,” claimed the rebel recruiter, who is married to a senior al-Shabaab commander.

Kenyan police officers patrol the beach at Kiwayu Safari Village resort, where David Tebbutt was killed and his wife Judith abducted (Reuters)

She said she was told what allegedly happened by al-Shabaab’s top administration official in Kismayu in southern Somalia. Kenyan police believe Mrs Tebbutt, who is from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, and is believed to be deaf, is now in Somalia. A Somali news agency, the Somali Report, said Mrs Tebbutt was being held in Kismayu by al-Shabaab.

We are doing everything we possibly can. Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons he had just chaired a crisis meeting on the kidnapping. “We are doing everything we possibly can on this desperately tragic case,” he said. “The foreign secretary has met with the family today. I think on some of these cases it is not right to air all of these issues in public, but I can reassure … the Tebbutt family (that) we will do everything possible to help.” Britain has a policy of refusing to negotiate ransom deals with terrorist groups.

British police in Kenya

Metropolitan Police officers are in Kenya to help the authorities with their search. A Met spokeswoman said the officers would also be helping in the repatriation of Mr Tebbutt’s body, adding: “The officers have travelled at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with agreement of the Kenyan authorities.”

Kiwayu Safari Village issued a statement saying everyone at the resort was “devastated” by what had happened. “Every assistance” was being offered to help with the investigation.

The Tebbutts arrived at the resort after visiting the Masai Mara game reserve and were the only guests staying there. The holiday destination is near Kenya’s border with Somalia, where al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has been fighting the western-backed government in the capital Mogadishu for more than four years.