On Thursday, a search was underway for passengers of a UN helicopter that was “hijacked” by the radical Islamist Shebab after the plane had to make an emergency landing in central Somalia the day before, we learned from military sources.
• Also read: Passengers held hostage after UN helicopter crash in Somalia
These sources could not give the number of hostages, including “foreigners,” one of them said, without being able to provide information about their nationality.
The search focused on the Hindhere region, 470 kilometers north of the capital Mogadishu, where the helicopter was forced to land after a technical problem shortly after leaving the town of Beledweyne, the sources said.
According to an internal UN memo consulted by AFP on Wednesday, a helicopter with nine passengers and crew on board carrying out a medical evacuation had to make an “emergency landing” near Gadoon, 65 kilometers from Hindhere in Galmudug state, carry out .
This note mentioned that six passengers may have been taken hostage by the Shebab, one was killed, and two others escaped. The personnel were contractors and not UN personnel.
“It has been confirmed that Shebab militants have taken several members of the aircraft's personnel hostage. We believe they are holding them in the Hindhere region,” Captain Abdusalam Mohamed told AFP.
“We do not have details (…), but we were told that the helicopter was transporting medical supplies to Wisil (a location 150 km from the alleged landing site, editor's note) and that some of the passengers captured by Shebab are foreigners. ” Another military official in Galmudug state, Mohamed Adan, told AFP.
A U.N. official in Mogadishu, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had been “informed of the incident and it was confirmed that there was a hostage-taking involving foreigners, but no details are available.”
The Shebab, an al-Qaeda-linked group that has led an insurgency against the Somali government since 2007, has not communicated.
A traditional chief in the Wisil area, Osman Warsame, said he “received information that this helicopter was carrying medical equipment and was supposed to evacuate injured Somali soldiers from Wisil.”
“The area where he landed, we were informed that it was a place under the control of Shebab,” he added.
The Shebab were driven out of major cities in 2011 and 2012 and remain based in vast rural areas in the center and south of the country, from where they regularly carry out attacks on security, political and civilian targets.
The government of President Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud launched a major offensive in August 2023, supported by the American army and the African Union (Atmis) force present in the country, which, after allowing the recapture of areas in the center of the country, is currently active at standstill.