French hostage escapes after killing captors

Thu, Aug 27, 2009, 01:00

MOGADISHU – One of two French security advisers kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month escaped yesterday after killing three of his captors and fleeing to the presidential palace in Mogadishu, police said.

Militants had seized the Frenchmen at a hotel in the capital on July 14th and handed one to the Hizbul Islam rebels and the other to fighters from the al-Shabaab group, which Washington describes as al-Qaeda’s proxy in the Horn of Africa state.

Al-Shabaab militants said they had later taken custody of both men, although that could not be confirmed. Somali government officials at the city’s hilltop Villa Somalia palace said the man who escaped was in good health.

“We understand he killed three al-Shabaab guys who were guarding him. I cannot understand how this good story happened, but now he is in the hands of the government,” Abdiqadir Odweyne, a senior policeman, said.

Somalia’s fragile UN-backed government faces a stubborn insurgency mounted by al-Shabaab and others. They have been joined by foreign jihadists who Western security agencies say are using the country as a safe haven to plot attacks in the region and beyond.

An al-Shabaab source confirmed three of its members were killed, but said it was not known by whom: “Three of my friends died but who killed them is the question. We were expecting a ransom this morning,” the rebel source said.

One associate of the kidnappers said the Frenchman had been freed after talks with Somali elders, and a senior Somali government source said a ransom had been paid for his release.

Adding to the confusion over who was holding the pair captive, a French foreign ministry statement said the man had escaped the clutches of Hizbul Islam. “He is now safe,” the statement said.

“Contrary to certain allegations and rumours, this occurred without violence and France did not pay any ransom. The second hostage is still being held.”

A spokesman for African Union peacekeepers said the Frenchman had been moved from the palace to their base. A Somali government official said last month that the two Frenchmen had been posing as journalists.

President Sheikh Ahmed’s administration controls only small parts of the lawless country’s central region and a few districts of bomb-blasted Mogadishu. Underlining the insecurity, police said 12 people were killed yesterday as guards from the agriculture ministry battled other government forces in Mogadishu. – (Reuters)