By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Gunmen abducted two Cuban doctors near Kenya’s border with Somalia as they were going to work, a county government official said on Friday, and local media reported a police officer guarding them was shot dead.
Television broadcaster KTN News and the Daily Nation newspaper reported the police officer was killed.
“They hijacked these Cuban doctors. They are suspected to have crossed into Somalia, so a security operation is still going on,” said David Ohito, the Mandera County government’s communications director. “It happened right in the middle of the town.”
KTN News said police suspected the gunmen were thought to be members of the Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Kenyan Citizen television footage showed police setting up a roadblock on a road leading to the border.
Al Shabaab has taken responsibility for a number of attacks in Mandera, in which dozens of civilians and security personnel have been killed.
In November, gunmen wounded five people, including two children, and kidnapped an Italian charity worker in Chakama, a small town near the Kenyan coast south of the Somali border. The fate of the Italian woman is unknown.
Al Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia’s central government and establish their own rule, based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The group also conducts frequent assaults in Kenya, mostly in the region bordering Somalia, to put pressure on the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia.
On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy upgraded its travel warning for Kenya, listing “do not travel” for Mandera county.
“Exercise increased caution in Kenya due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping,” the warning read.
(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Omar Mohammed; editing by Larry King)