NAIROBI – Two Cuban doctors who were sent to Kenya on a medical mission were abducted on Friday while a police officer has been killed in an incident authorities suspect is linked to Somali militant group al-Shabaab.
The assault took place at about 9:00 am local time (0600 GMT) in the northeastern city of Mandera, near the border with Somalia, when armed assailants blocked an official car that had been taking surgeon Landy Rodriguez and doctor Assel Herrera Correa to the hospital where they work in Mandera.
Kenyan police spokesperson Charles Owino told EFE that the doctors were being escorted to work when the incident took place.
Owino said the assailants blocked their route in two Toyota Probox cars before seizing the two medics and crossing into neighboring Somalia.
The suspects opened fire and killed a police officer who had been shielding the doctors. A second officer was able to get away.
Kenya’s new chief of police, Hillary Mutyambai, tweeted that security agencies were working with Somalia “to pursue to abductors into Somalia with the objective of rescuing the victims.”
Kenya’s police service said on Twitter that the assailants had driven across the border into Somalia and a Mandera County Government vehicle “has been recovered.”
“The driver is being held for interrogation,” police added.
Police also confirmed that an officer had been fatally wounded.
Sources from Cuba’s embassy in Nairobi told EFE they were aware of the incident but did not have any details about the alleged kidnapping.
Mandera County governor Ali Roba said suspected members of al-Shabaab were behind the assault and that the fallen officer was a “hero.”
In a statement Roba called on the government to do all it could in order to save the lives of the Cuban doctors.
Rodriguez and Herrera are part of a group of 100 Cuban doctors who arrived to Kenya last year thanks to an agreement between the two countries to boost access to specialized medical services in the East African nation.
In an interview with Citizen TV in July last year, the two medics had expressed their concerns over the security situation in their new posting.
Herrera said he had experience working in other countries were there were complicated situations, such as Venezuela and Brazil, while Rodriguez said he knew the country was dangerous and susceptible to attacks by al-Shabaab.
The same deal allows for 50 Kenyans to go to Cuba to receive training there.
In November last year, 23-year-old Italian volunteer Silvia Costanza Romano was abducted by armed assailants in the southeastern coastal village of Chakama.
Despite the deployment of Kenyan security forces to try and locate her, Romano’s whereabouts remains unknown.
Al-Shabaab, which joined al-Qaeda’s international network in 2012, operates in Somalia but veers into Kenya to carry out attacks from time to time.
Most of the attacks launched by the militants in recent years were on the border between both countries in retaliation over the presence of Kenyan forces in Somalia since Oct. 2011.
The terror group, which controls vast swathes of territory in the center and south of Somalia and seeks to establish a Wahhabi Islamic state, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi on Jan. 15, which claimed 21 lives.