MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s journalists’ union identified two Western reporters kidnapped near Mogadishu and said on Sunday it believed they were being held hostage by gunmen in the capital.
The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) named them as Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian reporter based in Baghdad but freelancing for French television and Canada’s Global National News, and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist.
A local translator and a local driver were also seized.
“No formal claim of responsibility has been made and the motive for the kidnapping remains unknown. As well, there have been no demands,” the NUSOJ said in a statement.
But it said information received from its local members early on Sunday suggested militiamen were holding the pair hostage in Mogadishu’s northeastern district of Suqa Holaha.
“It is not clear whether they are being held for political purposes, (as) bargaining chips or for financial purposes. But journalists who spoke on condition of anonymity for their security said the abduction seemed to be a pre-planned attack.”
Abductions are common in the lawless Horn of Africa nation, where Islamist insurgents have been fighting the interim government and its Ethiopian military allies since early 2007.
Somalia is also one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate. Many reporters have been attacked and since the start of the insurgency last year nine local correspondents have been killed.
“Prudence is required in Somalia, where the situation is complex and journalists and humanitarian aid workers are often abducted by militias acting with very diverse motives,” press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said on Sunday.
Two Italian aid workers kidnapped near Mogadishu were freed on August 5 after being held hostage for more than two months. Humanitarian sources told Reuters a substantial ransom had been paid to their captors, but Italy’s government denied that.
Lindhout, 26, and Brennan, 27, were abducted on Saturday as they returned from a visit to camps for thousands of displaced civilians at Afgoye, southwest of the bombed-out capital.
“We are deeply concerned that our son ... may have gone missing near Mogadishu in Somalia yesterday. He is a freelance photographer who arrived in Kenya just over a week ago,” Brennan’s family said in a statement from Australia.
“We understand that the Australian government is making urgent contact with relevant Somali authorities as well as the Canadian, French and British embassies to help locate Nigel.”
Australia’s foreign affairs department said the Australian High Commissioner in Nairobi was also investigating.
“We are awaiting advice from the Somali government. We are also in contact with foreign governments with interests in Somalia to seek their cooperation and assistance,” a spokesman said in a statement.
Australian Federal Police and foreign affairs staff will be deployed from Pretoria, South Africa, to assist.
NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman said his organization was appalled by the “cruel abduction” of the journalists and he called for their immediate release.
“They were simply doing their job of reporting the story and presenting the plight of Somali people to the world,” he said.
Additional reporting by Michael Perry in Sydney and Daniel Wallis in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis