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Update: A shopkeeper in Amara, between Harar-Dheere and Hiinlabi, confirmed to Somalia Report that four armed militia responsible for the kidnapping arrived at his shop in a Toyoto Hilux Surf (an SUV with a roll down rear window preferred by pirates) on Wednesday at noon. They stopped to buy pasta, fish, milk, and water. He said they are pirates from Harar-Dhere and are holding the aid workers in the bush area between Hiinlabi and Amara, which are 30km apart. Amara was the town where Somalia Report confirmed the location of Judith Tebbutt, a British hostage, and the location the Chandlers were held during their lengthy kidnap.
Abdullahi Mohamud Digsi is the leader of the pirate group currently holding American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted, 60.
At least four people have been arrested in the kidnapping of three aid workers from the Danish Demining Group (DDG), including a 60-year-old Danish male and a 32-year-old American female, who were seized in northern Somalia along with their Somali colleague on Tuesday.
The Somali hostage was released and is now speaking with police about the incident, but the two foreigners remain with their captors.
The kidnappers, part of the security team tasked with protecting the hostages, handed the three aid workers over to a pirate group in Bajeela district, 120km south of Galkayo, the border area of Galmudug state and the Himan and Heeb administration. From there, the pirates moved the hostages to Hiinlabi district, near the coastal town of Harardhere in Mudug region.
The pirates were suspected to be from the Sa’ad clan, a sub-clan of Hawiye, according to local sources.
After seven of the kidnappers tried to return to Galkayo, they clashed with forces loyal to Galmudug state who were trying to rescue the aid workers. Four of the men were arrested in Bajeela village while three escaped in the bush near the Bajeela district, according to multiple sources who spoke to Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity.
Security officials from Galmudug confirmed to local media in Galkayo that the suspects belong to the militia group that kidnapped the aid workers on Tuesday.
At least ten armed gunmen operating from two Toyota Hilux Serfs seized the pair from their vehicle after they completed a workshop in Galkayo and were making their way to the Galkayo airport for a flight to Nairobi, Kenya. Southbound flights in Somalia actually stop in Galkayo, forcing Mogadishu and Nairobi-bound passengers to overnight and then resume their journey southward in the morning, which is a major security problem since the road to the airport is not secure.
The head of security for the aid workers and one of the men arrested, Abdirisak Ma’in Sheikh Dhere, told Somalia Report at 8:55pm on Tuesday that he was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and had collaborated with pirates to abduct the three hostages.
Immediately after the kidnapping, local residents told Somalia Report the security team was 'in' on the kidnapping and they appear to be correct.
Although the identity of the Danish hostage unconfirmed, the American hostage is confirmed as Jessica Buchanan who is the Regional Education Advisor for the Danish Demining Group and a former fourth grade teacher from Rosslyn, Virginia.
“As a first priority, we have been concentrating on the ongoing investigations. We are keeping close contact with the family members, who are deeply concerned, just as we are," Ann Mary Olsen, head of the Danish Refugee Council's International Department, said in a statement on Tuesday. The deputy security minister of Galmudug, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, also confirmed the kidnapping and said that investigations underway.
"We have the information that two workers for DDG have been kidnapped near the airport. A militia in two vehicles stopped their car and kidnapped the two individuals. We sent more troops and police officials to the site and will soon capture them."
The deputy of security minister said later in a press conference in Galkayo that his troops have been authorized to use force to pursue the suspects and free the hostages.
Although Galmudug considers itself a state, its control over Galkayo is tenuous. Galkayo is technically the capital of the Mudug region but the city is separated into a northern region which is part of Puntland and a southern region controlled by the Galmudug security forces. The airport is to the east of city midway between both states.
Puntland and Galmudug have fought over control of the city but recently reached a peace deal to end the fighting.
Puntland provides much of security assistance for the lawless town of Galkayo, a hangout for both pirates, criminals and elements of al-Shabaab and has been the scene of heavy fighting with al-Shabaab, assassinations and IED attacks.
Local officials also confirmed the kidnapping.
“Yes, the two aid workers, an American women and Danish man, were kidnapped in southern Galkayo in the semi-autonomous region of Galmudug state at 3:15 pm local time,” Abdi Shakur Mohamoud Gurey, the General Director of Puntland Agency for Social Welfare (PASWE), told Somalia Report.
“The aid workers were working in Galkayo over the last several weeks, especially in Galmudug. Today they were conducting a workshop on Barahley Street and then they began to go back to the northern part of the city which is controlled by Puntland, but unfortunately they were kidnapped,” added the PASWE director.
Meanwhile, the president of Himan and Heeb condemned the incident and called the immediate and unconditional release of the aid workers.
President Mohamed Aden Ticey said that his administration does not have any accurate information but will attack the gang if found. He also confirmed that the aid workers were taken to Ximan and Xeeb territory.
He said kidnapping of innocent people who came to the country to help the Somali people is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
NGOs Suspend Operations
Meanwhile reports from Galkayo indicate that some foreign aid agencies have suspended operations citing security concerns.
Employees of Mercy and Visig that operate in the fields of medicine and construction respectively ceased operations on Wednesday and their foreign staffs were flown out of the town.
“The aid agencies of Mercy and Visig withdrew their staffs out of fear over the rising insecurity in the region,” Ali Nor Abdi, a staff member of a local NGO, told Somalia Report.
The Galmudug deputy interior and security minister, Ahmed Mahmaud Baasto, declined to comment on the matter.
“I can’t confirm if they completely left the region but we shall look into this claim,” he said.
Somalia Report is working to contact Mercy and Visig for an official statement.
The recent kidnap of two female aid workers from MSF, and two elderly female tourists has increased tension throughout the region. There may be a direct connection since al Shabaab has denied any involvement in the kidnaps but Kenya has used the incidents as an excuse for their military incursion.