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Somalia begins ‘efforts to rescue’ UN helicopter crew held by al-Shabab


Thursday January 11, 2024

Somalia’s government is working to rescue the passengers of a United Nations helicopter that was captured by al-Shabab fighters, a spokesperson said on Thursday, but military officers said it would be difficult to access the area where they were taken.

The helicopter took off from the city of Beledweyne and landed close to Gadoon village in the Galgaduud region due to a technical glitch, an internal UN memo seen by Al Jazeera stated.

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“The government has been undertaking efforts to rescue the crew since yesterday when the accident happened, and efforts still go on,” Information Minister Daud Aweis told Reuters news agency. He did not provide any other details.

According to the memo, there were nine passengers on the plane, including military personnel and a third-party contractor. At least six of the passengers were reportedly seized by al-Shabab.

Colonel Abdullahi Isse, who is based in the town of Adado, about 100km (60 miles) north of Hindhere, told Reuters that troops in the area had no plans to launch a rescue mission.

“No forces have gone to rescue them. I don’t believe they will escape,” he said. “The area has been controlled by al-Shabab for over 10 years, and even the residents there are pro-al-Shabab.”

In a brief statement on Wednesday, the UN said “response efforts” were under way.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian operator in Somalia, also said the helicopter did not belong to it or the UN Humanitarian Air Service and that none of its personnel was on board.

It said in a post on social media site X that all WFP flights in the area had been temporarily suspended as a precaution.

Al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, has been trying to overthrow the Somali government since 2006 in a bid to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam.

It has thousands of fighters, most in its strongholds in the centre and south of the country. A government offensive since 2022 has managed to recapture some territory in central Somalia, but the campaign suffered significant setbacks last year.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES



 





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