Nairobi, Jul 20 2009 (Somalilandpress) – A string of abductions of foreigners in Somalia have thrown the international spotlight on kidnapping in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke told Reuters on Sunday that the government had not ruled out any option to rescue two French hostages, and that rebel groups were changing tactics with recent kidnappings.
Two French security men were seized last week in Mogadishu then three foreign aid workers at the weekend in a cross-border raid on a Kenyan town.
Kidnapping of locals is also a common tactic.
Here are some questions and answers about abductions:
WHY DID IT START?
- Kidnappings became widespread following the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and the surge in local warlords controlling fiefdoms in the Somali capital Mogadishu and beyond. Before 1991, abductions were usually of a political nature, carried out by the state to disrupt opposition and to punish dissidents. Siad Barre’s administration used torture and assassination to help keep a grip on power.
- The influx of small arms into Somalia following Siad Barre’s downfall has significantly contributed to the rise of kidnappings. An Indian-made AK-47 costs around $140 and is widely and easily available with little to no state control over who can buy a gun. Carjackings, armed-robberies and burglary have also emerged as a result of insecurity in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu.
- Mogadishu is usually the favourite place for kidnappers to operate from. Often, abductors take hostages from remote areas and bring them to the sea-side capital. Mogadishu is the headquarters of many criminal gangs, freelance militias and insurgent groups. All foreign visitors and many Somalis must buy protection from one of the local armed groups.
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WHO’S BEHIND THE SEIZURES?
- Freelance militias were largely responsible for kidnappings before Ethiopia’s invasion in late 2006 to squash a sharia courts movement that took control over the capital and much of the south, analysts say. These militias are also heavily involved in other criminal activities and sell their services — armed personnel and vehicles — to the highest bidder.
- Rebels including al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam are sometimes linked to the kidnapping business, analysts say. Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam leaders were together in the Islamic Courts group that controlled much of Somalia in 2006, bringing a level of stability and safety not seen for years.
- Somali pirates are arguably the nation’s best-known hostage-takers. Buccaneers make millions of dollars annually by seizing commercial and other ships sailing in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. Piracy has ballooned off the Somali coast in recent years where the sea gangs continue to defy foreign navies patrolling the vast shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe.
- Clan militias originally arose out of a desperate need for protection following the chaos and civil war that erupted when Siad Barre was ousted. Somalia is a clan-based society, and minority groups usually face the brunt of clan kidnappings.
WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES?
- Rebels and the government are involved in political kidnappings although since President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed took over the presidency from former warlord Abdullahi Yusuf, government-linked abductions have decreased, analysts say. Ahmed has also released hostages taken under the former regime.
- Foreign captives fetch a higher price than Somali hostages. Kidnappings are a key source of revenue for some groups in the Horn of Africa nation. Ransoms for outsiders, especially Westerners, usually run over $1 million, but Somali captives are usually freed for $1-$3,000 but sometimes for over $10,000.
- Access to land, water and livestock are key motives for clan militias. Drought is a chronic problem in Somalia where many are pastoral, and scarce resources in some areas are not only a source of conflict, but a reason for kidnappings.
- Fierce business competition and disputes over dividends are also a cause for abductions in Somalia where enterprises have their own guards armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Businesses battle literally and figuratively for market share.
By Jack Kimball and Abdiaziz Hassan