SOMALIA: Three journalists and driver kidnapped

New York, August 25, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the safety of three journalists and their driver who were abducted by an unknown armed group two days ago.

Somali photojournalist Abdifatah Mohamed Elmi and two foreign freelance journalists, Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan, along with a driver identified only as Mahad, were kidnapped along the Afgoye-Mogadishu road, roughly 11 miles (17 kilometers) north of the capital, Mogadishu, local journalists told CPJ.

The National Union of Somali Journalists said they believed the abducted group was being held in the northeastern village of Suqa Holaha on August 24 but local journalists and a relative of Elmi received a tip that they have moved since to Jowhar, a town 50 miles (90 kilometers) north of Mogadishu.

The reasons for the abduction are still unclear. Local journalists told CPJ that it appeared to have been to be a well-planned operation using three vehicles.

“Somalia continues to be the most dangerous place for local and foreign journalists in Africa,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “CPJ calls on both the Transitional Government and the Islamic Courts Union to adhere to their public statements to do everything possible to ensure the safe release of these media workers.”

According to local reports, Mogadishu’s interim mayor, Mohamed Osman Ali, condemned the abduction and is investigating. Government military spokesman Dahir Mohamed claimed that suspected members of the insurgent Islamic Courts Union—a coalition of Islamic courts fighting the transitional government—that make up the Lower Shabelle Administration are behind the kidnapping, local journalists said. The transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union have been fighting a civil war since December 2006, when the current government wrested power from the Islamic Union. The union’s spokesman, Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow, told Reuters that they were not behind the abduction and would “do all that is possible to save them.”

According to HornAfrik journalist Abdullahi Hasan Suleiman, the three were abducted upon their return visit from a refugee camp in Celasha Biyaha, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Mogadishu.

In a separate incident the previous day, police arrested journalist Ahmed Jeylani of Radio Voice of Holy Koran in the Bondhere district of Mogadishu. Police detained the journalist overnight without charges and released him without stating the reason behind his arrest, the National Union of Somali Journalists told CPJ.

The violence in Somalia has taken a heavy toll on journalists: Seven Somali journalists were killed because of their work in 2007—the world’s second-highest count behind Iraq. More than 50 others have fled Mogadishu, according to CPJ research. Two were killed earlier this year in separate incidents.