CHAKAMA, Kenya — Gunmen stormed a children’s home in a remote part of Kenya’s coastal region late Tuesday night, kidnapping a 23-year-old Italian woman who volunteered there, and injuring another woman and four children.
It was the first abduction of a foreigner in the region since a spate of attacks by the Somalia-based al-Shabab terrorist group six years ago.
Local government officials said the identity of the attackers was unknown, though witnesses in the village of Chakama said they were heard speaking in Somali. No group has claimed responsibility.
The Italian charity that Silvia Costanza Romano was volunteering with, Africa Milele, released a brief statement on its website saying: “There are no words to comment on what is happening. Silvia, we are all with you.”
Churchill Otieno Onyango, an aid worker who was in Chakama for work, witnessed the attack.
“The guys who approached the house were three Somalis. Two were having guns, one was not. The one who grabbed the lady, slapped her and disappeared with her. We were told to lie down, and they began shooting while they went away,” he said in an interview.
Multiple witnesses in the village said the assailants dragged the woman toward a nearby river and eventually crossed it with her, shooting indiscriminately as they went. Police said a 10-year-old child was shot in the eye and a 12-year-old was shot in the thigh.
“Right now, the people are afraid,” said Albert Chome, a village elder in Chakama. “We are especially afraid to cross the river. We don’t know where the terrorists are. This evening if we don’t have any information, I don’t think people here will sleep in their houses, they will sleep in the bush.”
Chome said that he had interacted with one of the assailants, who had introduced himself as Said Adan Abdi, a herdsman with goats and cattle he wanted to bring through the village. Chome says Abdi booked three nights in a local guesthouse.
Kenya’s coast thrives on tourism, and a series of abductions in 2011 and 2012 by al-Shabab led to a regional economic slump.
Two incidents in particular made international headlines: In 2011, a wheelchair-bound French woman was kidnapped on Manda Island, a short distance from Lamu Island, one of Kenya’s premier tourist destinations. The kidnapping came just weeks after a British man was killed and his wife kidnapped from another island close to the border with Somalia. The French woman died, while the British woman was released for a ransom.
Gideon Saburi, the deputy governor of Kilifi county, where Chakama is located, called for greater vigilance and increased security presence in the area.
“We need to have a security camp here or at least a police post,” he said. “For many years peace has prevailed and so we have relaxed. The attackers must have found that there was a way. But we believe it is an isolated incident.”