Suspected Somali Al-Shabaab jihadis kidnapped two Cuban doctors in northeastern Kenya on Friday and killed their police escort officer, officials said.
Kenya and Somalia are working together to pursue the abductors, they said.
The operation happened as the two doctors — a general practitioner and a surgeon — were going to work in the town of Mandera, near the border with Somalia.
“Today at around 9:00 am, suspected Al-Shabaab militants abducted the two Cuban doctors stationed at the Mandera County Referral Hospital,” the county’s governor, Ali Roba said in a statement.
Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino said the assailants used two Toyota Probox cars to block the vehicle that the doctors were travelling in.
One of two police officers escorting them “was shot by the attackers and died on the spot. The attackers succeeded to abduct the two doctors and crossed the border with them,” said Owino.
The driver of the doctors’ vehicle was arrested and is being questioned, he said.
A senior police officer, who asked not to be named, told AFP: “From the modus operandi and the fact that they went towards the Somalia border, we have reasons to believe that the kidnappers are Al-Shabaab.”
“Our security agencies are working with Somalia Government Security agencies to pursue the abductors into Somalia with the objective of rescuing the victims,” Kenyan police chief Hillary Mutyambai said in a statement.
The two doctors, whose names have not been released, are part of a group of about 100 Cubans who came to Kenya last year to help boost health services.
In Cuba a health ministry statement read on television said: “Channels of communication have been established immediately with the Kenyan authorities to address this situation, while keeping the collaborators’ family members here in Cuba informed. Likewise, a government working group has been set up to follow up on this sensitive issue.”
Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants have been waging an insurgency against Somalia’s foreign-backed government for over a decade.
Last November, an armed gang seized Silvia Romano, 23, an Italian charity worker, in the southeastern town of Chakama. Her whereabouts are unknown.
Police at the time warned against any speculation that the Shabaab may have been involved in her abduction.
The Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, have been fighting since 2007 to topple Somalia’s fragile government, which is backed by a 20,000-strong African Union force, Amisom.
The Shabaab fled fixed positions they once held in Mogadishu in 2011, and have since lost many of their strongholds.
But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country, and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities, striking at the heart of Somalia’s government.
The group has carried out a number of attacks in Kenya in reprisal for the country’s participation in Amisom.
Kidnappings in Kenya are relatively rare but can have a devastating impact on tourism, a major income-earner.
In 2011, a British man, David Tebbutt, was killed and his wife, Judith, was kidnapped by gunmen who took her into Somalia and held her for ransom for six months.
That attack, and the kidnapping weeks later of a Frenchwoman on the Lamu archipelago and two Spanish aid workers from a refugee camp in northeast Kenya, were seen as a trigger for Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia to attack Islamist bases there.