A German Nurse with ICRC Kidnapped in Somalia, Security Officials Call It an Inside Job
Sonja Nientiet had worked in other war zones, including Syria. Why she was snatched, apparently by a security guard, remains unclear. The fear is that she’ll be sold to al Shabaab.
UPDATED Friday May 4, 2018, at 6:00 a.m. EDT
MOGADISHU, Somalia—A German nurse, Sonja Nientiet, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mogadishu was abducted on Wednesday night in what local security officials believe to be an inside job involving at least one of the personnel guarding the ICRC compound.
The Daily Beast has learned that a head security officer for Dhiblawe Security, the local private security company contracted to guard the ICRC compound and the adjacent Shamo Hotel. He is believed by security officials to have orchestrated the kidnapping, which took place at roughly 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday night. He is reported to have stolen three AK-47s and one PK machine gun from the ICRC’s security storeroom just prior to abducting the nurse.
“It is obvious to us that this was a well-planned, well-organized kidnapping,” Adbulaziz Ali Ibrahim, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Security, told The Daily Beast. “I can confirm this was an inside job.”
According to local security officials, the kidnapper used an ICRC vehicle to transport the aid worker and left the compound through its back gate, which is connected to the Shamo Hotel and was unguarded. That vehicle was found in the Hodan district of Mogadishu later that evening, suggesting the kidnapper changed vehicles after leaving the ICRC compound.
International security personnel have reported that one national staff member, a translator, who observed the kidnapping taking place was taken alongside the German nurse and later escaped, although local security officials have not yet confirmed this.
The Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) has arrested nine security personnel guarding the compound and is currently pursuing three additional security personnel who were in the compound and fled after the abduction. NISA guards have taken over security in the compound for the time being. “The security personnel who were inside the compound are currently in detention and being questioned,” Ibrahim said.
NISA investigators believe that a dispute between the security personnel at Dhiblawe and the company's owner played a role in the kidnapping, and Nientiet is being used as leverage in this disagreement.
“We are in touch with his family and those close with him to try to convince him to safely return the German woman,” Ibrahim said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure her safe return.”
But even if a personal dispute sparked Nientiet's kidnapping, security officials are concerned that her kidnappers may have already linked up with al Shabaab. According to local security officials, NISA initially thought the kidnappers took Nientiet to the small town of Elasha Biyaha roughly 15 kilometers from the capital the night the kidnapping took place. They now believe Nientiet has been taken to Adale, a coastal town in the Middle Shabelle region north of Mogadishu, which in recent months has become a stronghold for the al-Qaeda-linked-terrorist group.
The ICRC compound in Mogadishu is located in the K5 district near the intersection where a bombing on Oct. 14 killed over 500 people. It is roughly a five-minute drive to the city’s “green zone” at the Mogadishu International Airport.
According to the ICRC, its 10 remaining non-Somali staff have been evacuated to Nairobi until further notice and movement inside the capital has been suspended.
“We are in touch with authorities, local leaders, and others in the area to gather as much information as we can and do our very best to ensure a quick and safe release for her,” ICRC spokeswoman Crystal Wells told The Daily Beast. “We just want her unconditional and immediate release.”
Nientiet joined ICRC in 2014 and worked with the organization in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In January she moved to Somalia, where she worked as a health delegate providing care directly in Mogadishu’s hospitals, primary care centers, and detention centers as well as training Somali first responders.
“She is someone who is spending every day taking care of some of Somalia’s more vulnerable people,” Wells said.
Though this is the first kidnapping of a foreign aid worker in Somalia in nearly 10 years, the country remains particularly dangerous for humanitarian personnel. According to the United Nations, at least 30 humanitarian workers were killed in 2016 and 2017 in Somalia. In March, a local Red Cross worker died from his injuries after a bomb attached to his vehicle detonated, and on Tuesday, a Somali aid worker with the World Health Organization was shot by gunmen in Mogadishu. She was inside Mogadishu’s Bakara Market, known as Al Shabaab’s last remaining territory in the city, and was buying items for a wedding she was planning to attend the following week when she was killed.
According to Ibrahim, local security forces do not have any evidence tying the security officer suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping with al Shabaab, but they continue gathering information on what may have motivated the kidnappers and whether they are in contact with the terror group.