By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
PARIS, July 14 -- Two French security advisers posing as journalists were abducted from their hotel in Mogadishu on Tuesday by Somali gunmen, according to the Foreign Ministry and reports from the chaotic Somali capital.
The Foreign Ministry did not identify the two men or specify which branch of the French government had dispatched them to Somalia. But it said in an announcement that they were in Mogadishu on "an official mission" to assist the Western-backed government of President Sharif Ahmed in "security matters."
A senior official in Ahmed's government told Agence France-Presse, the main French news agency, that the two men had arrived in Mogadishu nine days ago, invited by the Somali Defense Ministry to train "their counterparts in Somali intelligence agencies."
The men were staying at the Sahafi Hotel International, which over the years has gained a reputation as headquarters for foreign correspondents covering the violence that has ripped Somalia apart for two decades. In recent times, however, few Western journalists have ventured into Mogadishu, where the official police and army are weak, heavily armed factions often rule the streets and kidnapping is a constant danger.
The hotel manager, Mohamed Mohamed, told news agencies that the two French men registered at the hotel as journalists on their arrival last week. He said a dozen armed men showed up Tuesday morning and, after disarming the hotel guards, searched the hotel door-to-door until they found their targets.
None of Somalia's many armed groups asserted responsibility for the abduction, and there were no reports of a demand for ransom.
France has had no diplomatic representation in Mogadishu since 1993, when a U.N.-led effort to impose peace on Somalia's warring factions led to disaster.
Some African and Western countries, including the United States, have backed Ahmed's transitional government against its Islamist opponents, largely out of fear that Somalia could provide safe haven to terrorist groups. But he has been unable to assert firm control over the country, which harbors wanted terrorism figures and groups of pirates preying on vessels that pass through the Gulf of Aden.
France's role in providing security assistance to Ahmed's forces was not widely known in Paris.
The report that the two men had posed as journalists was received with alarm by media advocacy groups. "Our position is that intelligence officers posing as journalists jeopardizes the security of all journalists," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Staff writer William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.