Since its creation as a military arm of the Union of Islamic Courts, opposed to the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, the Islamic fundamentalist organization Al-Shabaab has been resorting to different sources of financing, including drug and ivory trafficking, taxes on coal and sugar, extortions of NGOs that operate in their territories, donations from abroad and kidnappings of people, both nationals and foreign aid workers.
This chronology gives a synthesis of this last variant based on different news sources, reports from security agencies and anti-terrorist institutions around the world.
September 2008. A Kenyan intelligence report claims that four suspects belonging to Al-Shabaab are arrested near the Kiwayu Safari Village Hotel, in Lamu, 40 km from the border with Somalia. Apparently they were carrying out a “reconnaissance mission to determine the presence of security forces.”
November 10, 2008. Two Italian nuns, Maria Teresa Olivero (67) and Catarina Girardo (60), are kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in Wak, Mandera. It is the first action of this kind carried out by the terrorists. The nuns and their captors took five days to reach the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. They were released after more than a hundred days of captivity, through a payment of 1.5 million dollars.
February 2010. Kenya’s security services interrupt “an apparent attempt to kidnap westerners at the Kiwayu Safari Village Hotel.” A shooting takes place. The terrorists flee.
December 27, 2010. Spaniards Juan Alfonso Rey Echeverry and José Alfonso García, captain and boatswain, respectively, of the Mozambican fishing vessel Vega V, are kidnapped by Somali pirates southwest of the Comoros Islands, in the Indian Ocean, along with 19 Mozambicans and 3 Indonesians
A document from the Spanish Institute of Strategic Studies establishes a connection between the Somali pirates and the Islamic terrorist organization, and concludes: “For Al-Shabaab piracy could become a source of funding as opium is for the insurgency in Afghanistan or the kidnappings of western citizens for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. If Al-Shabaab continues to expand through Somali territory, all pirate camps will be under their control, and this could mean either the end of piracy, or, on the contrary, the collaboration between the two criminal organizations. Pirate groups could get protection on land in exchange for a share of their income.”
The Spaniards, both Galician, were released on May 14, 2011. According to the daily El País, “public entities linked to the Spanish government paid a ransom of a bit less than five million dollars.”
In June of 2017 a report from the Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finances dedicated to Al-Shabaab ―one of the most complete about the history, activities, financing and logistics of that organization― assures that 5.1 million dollars were paid.
September 2011. Al-Shabaab members break into a chalet at Kiwayu Safari Village Hotel, where David and Judith Tebbut, a British couple on holiday, were staying. The man is murdered while trying to protect his wife, who was finally kidnapped and taken to the Somali side. The organization received 1.1 million dollars (£ 820,000) in ransom after Judith Tebbut’s captivity for six months (she was released on March 21, 2012). The British government denied having paid for it.
October 13, 2011. Two Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) workers are kidnapped by three Al-Shabaab armed men in Dadaab camp, Garissa county, Kenya, about 100 kilometers from the Somali border. A police spokesman said the kidnappers “were being chased by land and air.” Blanca Thiebaut (30) and Monserrat Serra (40), both Spaniards, remained in captivity for 21 months.
MSF executive José Antonio Bastos thanked governments, NGOs and public opinion from all over the world for their support, but preferred not to reveal details of the operation that made it possible to release them. However, he stressed the “synergy and collaboration” with the Spanish government from the onset of the kidnapping.
March 21, 2013. In a confidential document, the National Intelligence Service of Kenya warns that Al-Shabaab agents through the Amniyat ―the organization’s intelligence and suicide attacks unit― plan to carry out kidnappings of western citizens in the northwest of Kenya.
February 21, 2016. Businessman James Gashamba arrives in Kenya, rescued by Somali forces. Al-Shabaab held him hostage for fifteen months.
July 13, 2017. Al-Shabaab members kidnap Mayra Mariam El-Maawy, Secretary of Public Works of Kenya, in Lamu. Elite forces manage to rescue her about 45 minutes after the attack, along with five other officials. El-Maawy was urgently taken to South Africa to receive treatment for her injuries, but she died in September. Four security officers, plus the driver of her vehicle, died in the operation.
November 20, 2018. In Malindi, Kilifi county, Silvia Romano, a 23-year-old Italian national of the NGO Africa Milele Onlus, is kidnapped. The action endorses the existence of a pattern in the kidnappings: selected objectives after observation and monitoring, in which collaborators from the Kenyan side are involved.
According to eyewitnesses, Al-Shabaab’s men, armed with machine guns, machetes and sticks, burst into her office. One asked: “Where is the mgeni?” [Visitor in Swahili]. “I told them she was gone, but they did not believe me and they went up to the room where they found her,” said an eyewitness.
He also stated that he had followed them and listened to one of them ask another if she was the one chosen. On receiving an affirmative answer, he proceeded to “slap her very hard until she fell to the floor.”
They took her across the Galana River.
In the action, a 10-year-old boy was shot in the eye, and another 12-year-old was shot in the thigh, police said. They were taken to a hospital, the first one in serious condition.
December 26, 2018. Police said that Romano “is alive” and that they felt “optimistic about finding the attackers.” Until now, her whereabouts are unknown.
April 12, 2019. Cuban doctors Assel Herrera, specialist in Integral General Medicine, from Las Tunas, and Landy Rodriguez, specialist in Surgery, from Villa Clara, are kidnapped in Mandera by an armed commando of three men. They were traveling with two bodyguards in a government car en route to the hospital where they were serving. The attackers blocked the vehicle’s passage with two cars and opened fire. They killed one of the two bodyguards. The driver and the other bodyguard were unharmed.
“Communication channels have been established immediately with the Kenyan authorities to address this situation, while keeping family members of the collaborators here in Cuba informed,” the Cuban News Agency reported. It also indicated that the executive headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel had “set up a government work group to follow up on this sensitive matter.”
April 12, 2019. The governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, condemns the attack and asks the elders to start talks with their peers in Somalia in order to ensure that the two doctors return safely.
Elders cross to Somalia.
April 13, 2019. The chief secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya and former representative of that country to the UN, Macharia Kamau, told the Daily Nation newspaper that everything was being done to ensure the safe return of the doctors.
“We will have the opportunity to do a complete autopsy of what happened. But for now, the goal is to get our people out and return them to their families,” he said in an interview. “These are professionals who have served this country with dedication. We are working hard to make sure they are safe.”
April 13, 2019. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez talks on the phone with his Kenyan counterpart, Monica Juma, about the kidnapping and actions of that country’s government. He points out that there is “constant follow-up” with the authorities on the matter and that the health professionals who are serving there “are safe.”
April 14, 2019. President Miguel Díaz-Canel says that his government is working for the safe return of the two doctors. “Cuba is working tirelessly for the safe return of Assel and Landy, our doctors kidnapped in Kenya,” he said on his Twitter account. He added, “we share with the loved ones” of the doctors kidnapped in the African country “the certainty that their humanitarian mission will be respected and recognized.” “We believe in the power of Solidarity,” he said.
April 15, 2019. Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino tells EFE news agency that “the joint operation of Kenyan and Somali forces was continuing. We can’t give more information about it, since it is an ongoing operation.”
“We would not like to encourage the payment of a ransom to the criminals as a way of proceeding because that would encourage other kidnappings. We will use the established legal methods while we carry out our duties,” said Owino.
April 15, 2019. A police source tells the daily The Star that shared information indicates that the Cuban doctors are being held in El Adde, Gedow region, Somalia. The governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, wonders how the terrorists managed to kidnap them, despite the strong presence of security officers in the town.
“Honestly, how is it possible that we have more than 1,000 security officers in a small town like this one? However, such an incident can occur in broad daylight. These are the questions we must ask ourselves. It seems strange to me,” he said.
April 15, 2019. The Kenyan authorities move Cuban doctors working in areas bordering Somalia. “It is an order from above and part of the security measures that the State has taken to ensure that all other doctors are safe, as it seems they are becoming a new target,” an official told the Daily News newspaper.
April 15, 2019. Judge Muthoni Nzibe orders the detention for 15 days of the driver of the Cuban doctors, Issac lbrein Elbow. A court issued the order after the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit affirmed the suspicion that he was involved in the kidnapping and that there was communication between him and the attackers. “Based on the investigations and several tracks followed by our team, there are good reasons to justify the arrest of the suspect pending a detailed investigation into activities related to terrorism,” said a state prosecutor.
April 16, 2019. According to a report from Somali TV, the two Cuban doctors were seen in a wooded area of Haalango, near Barawa, a maritime town where the presence of Al-Shabaab troops has been strong since 2009, despite military operations to displace them. If the data were true, it would place them some 398 miles (640 km) from Beled Hawo, a town bordering Kenya where it is believed they were taken immediately after the kidnapping.
April 16, 2019. The Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation reported that Somali elders had joined the negotiations to free the kidnapped Cuban doctors. As in other African communities, Somalis have a millenary tradition according to which elders provide local reconciliation solutions. “Decades after independence, traditional forms of justice continue to play an important role along the border between Kenya and Somalia, complementing government systems and, on occasion, replacing them,” the newspaper said.
The participation of the elders has the guarantee of an unwritten law, which, the newspaper said, makes it easier for them to enter the territories controlled by Al-Shabaab without fear of being attacked.
April 18, 2019. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke on the phone with his counterparts from Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, and from Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, on the actions to recover the two Cuban doctors kidnapped last week near the border between the two African countries.
Díaz-Canel spoke with the African rulers “as part of our efforts aimed at achieving the return of our two kidnapped doctors,” he said on Twitter.