POLITICS

4 Ukrainian citizens were among those captured when a helicopter went down in Somalia this week

Jan 13, 2024, 7:04 AM | Updated: 7:14 am

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry says that four of its citizens were among those captured by al-Qaida-linked extremists in Somalia after their helicopter that was contracted by the United Nations made an emergency landing in territory controlled by the militants earlier this week.

Officials say the helicopter went down on Wednesday because of engine failure and was then attacked by al-Shabab militants who killed one person and abducted the other passengers.

“Our citizens were members of the helicopter crew of the United Nations Mission in Somalia that crashed,” said Oleh Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign affairs ministry said Friday in a Facebook post.

The helicopter belongs to a Ukrainian private company, which executed a contract for transport on the order of the United Nations, he said.

Along with the Ukrainians, there were also five foreigners on board, Nikolenko said, without giving their nationalities.

An aviation official said earlier this week that medical professionals and soldiers were on board the helicopter that had been headed to Wisil town for a medical evacuation when it was forced to land in a village in Galmadug on Wednesday.

The minister of internal security of Galmudug state in central Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Aden Gaboobe, told The Associated Press by phone on Thursday that the helicopter made the landing because of engine failure in Xindheere village.

He said that six foreigners and one Somali national were on board and one was shot dead while trying to escape. One was missing. Different sources give varying figures for the number of occupants in the helicopter, ranging between seven and nine. The AP hasn’t been able to verify the exact number of people on board the helicopter.

The extremists then burnt the helicopter after confiscating what they thought was important, the Galmudug minister said.

Al-Shabab, al-Qaida’s East Africa affiliate, has been blamed for the attack, but the group hasn’t claimed responsibility.

Separately, the United Nations in Somalia strongly condemned a mortar attack that al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for, in which a member of the U.N. Guard Unit was killed on Thursday.

A number of mortar rounds landed inside the Aden Adde International Airport area, in which the U.N. compound is located, on Thursday night, according to a statement from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia, or UNSOM. In addition to the death of a U.N. Guard Unit member, the mortar rounds damaged infrastructure, the statement added.

Al-Shabab has intensified attacks on Somali military bases in recent months after it lost control of some territory in rural areas during a military offensive that followed the Somali president’s call for “total war” on the fighters.

Al-Shabab still controls parts of southern and central Somalia and continues to carry out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and other areas while extorting millions of dollars a year from residents and businesses in its quest to impose an Islamic state.

The widespread insecurity means the U.N. and other humanitarian entities travel around Somalia by air. The U.N. mission in the Horn of Africa nation offers humanitarian assistance in a country periodically hit by deadly drought and with one of the world’s least developed health systems.

The U.N. mission also supports a 19,000-strong multinational African Union peacekeeping force that has begun a phased withdrawal from the country with the aim of handing over security responsibilities in the coming months to Somali forces, who have been described by some experts as not ready for the challenge.

Last month, Somalia’s government welcomed the U.N. Security Council’s vote to lift the arms embargo imposed on the country more than three decades ago, saying it would help in the modernization of Somali forces.

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Omar Faruk contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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4 Ukrainian citizens were among those captured when a helicopter went down in Somalia this week