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KENYA

Astrid, 33, back in Kenya after kidnap ordeal

Four foreign aid workers kidnapped in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp returned safely to Nairobi on Monday tired but smiling after being released overnight in southern Somalia following a short gunfight.

Astrid, 33, back in Kenya after kidnap ordeal
Norwegian Refugee Council holds a press conference on release of aid workers, including Astrid Sehl (Photo: Erlend Aas/Scanpix, NRC)

"We are happy to be alive, we are happy this has ended," said Canadian-Pakistan national Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai as she and colleagues — from Canada, Norway and the Philippines — arrived in Nairobi by Kenyan military helicopter.

The two men and two women with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) looked exhausted and were covered in dust after their three day ordeal, but managed a weary smile to reporters before they boarded buses and left the airport.

NRC said in a statement it was "relieved and pleased" at their release, naming them respectively as Steven Dennis, 37, Astrid Sehl, 33, Glenn Costes, 40 and Sadazai, 38.

Costes limped from a bullet wound to the leg, but the four appeared to be otherwise in good health after arriving from the southern Somali border town of Dhobley, where they been freed earlier on Monday.

"They were released by a joint force of Somali and Kenyan forces, during which one of the kidnappers was killed," Kenyan army spokesman Cyrus Oguna told AFP. Three others were arrested.

Mohamed Dini Adan, a Somali military commander in Dhobley, an area under control of Somali forces allied to Kenya, said the army had stopped the "kidnappers who were trying to hide and sneak past the army."

Somali forces heard reports the gunmen were heading for a dense remote forest some 25 kilometres from Dhobley, and rushed to hunt them down.

"Thanks to God we foiled their aims of taking the hostages into the forest," said Somali General Osmail Sahardid, who led the operation.

Residents in Dhobley said the local Ras Kamboni militia — commanded by a former powerful Islamist warlord now allied to Kenya — were also involved in the rescue.

Kenyan security forces scrambled military helicopters and aircraft after gunmen attacked the NRC convoy at around midday Friday in Dadaab, some 100 kilometres from Somalia, killing a Kenyan driver and wounding two others.

However, the aid workers' vehicle seized by the gunmen was found abandoned a few hours after the attack, and fears grew the gang had escaped with the hostages through the remote scrubland across the porous border into lawless Somalia.

Kenya, which invaded southern Somalia in October to attack Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents, has troops some 120 kilometres deep into Somalia. However, the forces control only pockets of the vast territory.

"We are thankful to know that our four colleagues have been found and safely returned to Kenya. This is a day of relief for us and for the families of the abducted," the NRC chief Elisabeth Rasmusson said in a statement.

"Our thoughts go to the family of the NRC driver, Abdi Ali, who was killed during the attack on Friday, and to our two local employees who are currently undergoing treatment in hospital for injuries inflicted in the incident.

"The attack in Dadaab will stand as a tragic incident in NRC's history."

The kidnapping was the latest in a series of attacks in Dadaab, where gunmen last October seized two Spaniards working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). They are still being held hostage in Somalia.

The abduction of the Spaniards was one of the incidents that spurred Kenya to send troops and tanks into Somalia to fight the hardline Al-Shabaab whom Nairobi blames for abductions and cross-border raids.

On Sunday, gunmen killed 17 people in the worst attack in a decade that Kenya blamed on Al-Shabaab, with masked insurgents hurling grenades into two churches in the eastern garrison town of Garissa before firing guns into the congregation.

Al-Shabaab still control large parts of southern Somalia, despite recent losses to African Union troops, government forces and Ethiopian soldiers, who have wrested several key bases from the insurgents.

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SOMALIA

‘Strip new Somali PM of his Norwegian passport’: Progress

Norway’s anti-immigration Progress Party has called for Somalia’s new Prime Minister to be stripped of his Norwegian passport, arguing that a country’s leader should not have multiple nationalities.

'Strip new Somali PM of his Norwegian passport': Progress
Hassan Ali Khaire gave a video address after his appointment. Photo: Mraazaa/Wikimedia Commons
Somalia's new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, announced Hassan Ali Khaire's appointment over Twitter on Thursday, just a day after he was inaugurated. 
 
Khaire, 46, who came to Norway as a refugee in the late 80s, has like most of his compatriots taken advantage of an exemption Norway gives Somalis from its ban on dual citizenship. 
 
Mazyar Keshvari, the Progress Party’s immigration spokesman has argued that Khaire's appointment as his country's leader removed any justification for his dual citizenship. 
 
“He should be deprived of his Norwegian passport,” he told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.  “A country's prime minister cannot have multiple nationalities. If conflicts occur, where they will their loyalties lie?” 
 
The appointment of Khaire, who has degrees from the University of Oslo and the University of Edinburgh, marks a major step forward in Somalia’s attempt to establish a functioning government following 25 years of civil war and failed government. 
 
Khaire, a former regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council and later an executive with London’s Soma Oil and Gas, is seen as a capable administrator. 
 
But Keshvari suggested it might be time to end the special treatment of Somali citizens, particularly those who take senior positions in the country’s emerging government. 
 
“When someone has been appointed a Member of Parliament and even the Prime Minister of Somalia, we have to assume that they are Somali nationals,” he said.  
 
“The fact that he has now become Prime Minister clearly shows that his need for protection should be seen as temporary and not permanent in nature.” 
 
Dual citizenship is permitted by most countries in Europe, including Norway’s neighbours Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, but it is banned in Norway. 
 
Norway’s Green Party has proposed that Norway follow Denmark, which passed a dual citizenship bill in December 2014.
 
In February 2016, a leaked memo sent by a UN watchdog to diplomats in the UK and Norway, revealed that Khaire was under investigation by UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for possible ties to extremist groups in East Africa, including al-Shabaab. 
 
The SFO's enquiry was closed in December 2016, 
 
“The SFO has concluded, based on the information and material we have obtained, that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction,” an SFO spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.