Thursday 22 March 2018

Shoot-out with pirates fails to stop kidnapping

Wheelchair-bound tourist seized in raid on Kenyan holiday home

Mike Pflanz , in Nairobi

A disabled French woman in her 60s was being held prisoner in Somalia on last night night after a shoot-out at sea failed to stop the band of pirates who seized her from her Kenyan holiday home.

Kenya's coast guard and armed forces chased Marie Dedieu and her abductors in an open boat speeding towards the Somali border, not far from the spot where pirates seized the British tourist Judith Tebbutt last month. Despite sustained gunfire which injured several of the gang, Kenya's government admitted on last night that it failed to rescue the woman before her kidnappers crossed into Somali waters.

A source at France's defence ministry said that its forces in Djibouti further up the coast, and its troops with the international anti-piracy force, were "involved" in the search for Ms Dedieu, 66.

France has mounted special forces operations to free its nationals take hostage by Somali pirates. On the last such mission, in 2009, at least one hostage died.

Ms Dedieu, who uses a wheelchair, is a retired French journalist who spends more than half of the year at her house on the island of Manda, off the northern stretch of Kenya's coast. She had returned from a trip to France on Friday, sources said.

She is well known in the area, which is popular with well-known figures such as the actors Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Gillian Anderson. Princess Caroline of Monaco also owns property there.

At least 10 gunmen landed in two small speedboats on Manda's main beach at 3am yesterday, before forcing their way into the thatch-walled house. Six stormed into the living area, shouting: "Where is the foreigner, where is the foreigner". Zeinab Anthony, 24, a maid, said: "I refused to show them to the lady's bedroom and they hit my foot with the butt of their rifle."

George Lepapaole Moiyio, Ms Dedieu's 39-year-old Kenyan partner, said the men tried to shoot him as he ran for help. "I escaped through the window and ran to the next-door hotel," he said.

Ms Dedieu was dragged down the beach and thrown into a boat. A nightwatchman who saw the attack said: "She was screaming and trying to fight, but they were too strong for her." The gang did not carry her wheelchair with them, witnesses said. Ms Dedieu is also believed to be suffering from a chronic illness that needs constant medication, according to one source whose family owns a house close to hers.

Speedboats from the coastguard and navy gave chase, with help at first light from an army helicopter, which spotted the kidnappers more than half way to the Somali border by mid-afternoon.

Forces tried to fire warning shots to make them stop, but the gang fired at the helicopter, said Najib Balala, the tourism minister.

The attack is the second in less than a month on foreigners staying in the Lamu archipelago. Gunmen kidnapped Judith Tebbutt, a 56-year-old social worker from England, after killing her husband, David, in a midnight raid on their beach lodge 30 miles north of where yesterday's attack took place. She is understood to be in the hands of pirates in the same area of Somalia where Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple kidnapped in the Seychelles in 2009, were held.

"I cannot understand how the police have let this happen so soon after the British lady was taken," said Muhidin Athman, who owns a guesthouse on Lamu island.

© Telegraph

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