British Tourist Kidnapping in Kenya: Shabab or Criminals?

One British tourist was reportedly killed and another British tourist kidnapped on Kiwayu Island, Lamu District, Kenya this past Sunday.  The details still appear unclear and hostage and kidnapping teams are trying to make contact with whomever is holding the hostage.  Some accounts suggest it was al Shabab that kidnapped the woman while others say it was merely a criminal gang.  In either case, the assumption appears to be the hostage was taken into Somalia.

So many questions immediately come to mind:

  • Was this Shabab?  If so, I think this would indicate they are hurting for resources or believe they need to aggressively demonstrate their capability with an attack on Westerners.
  • Was this a criminal gang?  If so, is this reflective of increased counter-piracy efforts limiting other illicit options for criminal gangs?  Or is this a side effect of the famine increasing insecurity and lawlessness south of Somalia’s border into coastal Kenya?
  • Was this a criminal gang that captured a Western tourist knowing that Shabab would pay for one?  I have no idea if this is the case, but this is also not good as it would indicate that Shabab has more resources than everyone in the area- thus significant influence financially to spread their militant ideology.  This also reminds me of a debate months ago I had with Alex Thurston of Sahelblog.

Either way I’m very interested in this case study and will look to @ibnsiqili, @sahelblog and Dr. Menkhaus to fill me in on the details.

In the meantime, here is a quick map I put together which shows

  1. Lamu- The last sizable Kenyan town on the Kenyan coast before arriving in Somalia.  It was a key location for AQ movement during the ’90′s and Harun Fazul for two decades.
  2. Siyu- Island home of recently killed AQ operative Harun Fazul around 2002 and staging ground for attacks on the Paradise Hotel and the Mombasa airport.
  3. Ras Khamboni- A Shabab stronghold and base of militant activity going back more than a decade.
  4. Kiwayu Island- The location of this past weekend’s abduction.

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