Kenyan authorities have mounted a search and rescue operation for an Italian volunteer who was kidnapped in the coastal region of Kilifi during an attack in which five people were wounded. “The gang … abducted an Italian lady aged 23 years who is a volunteer of Africa Milele Onlus, an NGO operating in the area,” the National Police Service said on Twitter.
The wounded, who were all under the age of 25, were taken to hospital and officers were pursuing the attackers, police said. The men, armed with AK-47 rifles, attacked the town of Chakama on Tuesday evening, police said. The town is west of Malindi, a major tourism destination on the coast.
There was no immediate comment from the Italian government.
Police did not say if the gunmen were suspect militants from al Shabaab, an Islamist group based in neighboring Somalia that has launched deadly attacks in Kenya for years, including the 2013 attack on a shopping mall in the capital, Nairobi, in which nearly 70 people were killed.
“Neither the reasons for the attack nor the identity of the attackers have been established,” police said. An unidentified witness told Kenyan TV channel KTN News: “The European lady got out of her room, instead of lying on the ground, to esquire what was going on. One of the attackers then slapped her.”
“Their aim was to get money but they took off with her to the river and, before leaving the village, they started shooting in the air and they shot one woman and four boys,” the witness said. The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab aims to topple Somalia’s foreign-backed government and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam. They have intensified attacks in Kenya since it sent troops into Somalia in 2011.
Suspected Shabaab militants have launched several attacks in recent months in which Kenyan soldiers have been killed but those attacks have all taken place in Lamu County, which is north of Kilifi and borders Somalia. The group has beheaded people in more than one of those attacks in Lamu County. The town of Chakama in Kilifi County where the attack occurred is nearly 300 km (185 miles) southwest of the Kenya-Somalia border.