'We are back,' says rescued Canadian aid worker
Published Monday, July 2, 2012 7:07AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 2, 2012 10:31PM EDT
Four aid workers -- including two Canadians – are back on Kenyan soil after being kidnapped from a refugee camp last week and rescued on Monday.
The workers from the Norwegian Refugee Council were rescued in Somalia Monday morning and arrived back in Nairobi in the afternoon.
The four smiled and waved after stepping off a plane in Nairobi.
"We are happy. We are back. We are alive and we are happy this has ended," Qurat-Ul-Ain Sadazai, one of the two kidnapped Canadians, told reporters.
The NRC said the four released hostages were:
- Sadazai, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, 38 years old
- Steven Dennis of Canada, 37
- Astrid Sehl of Norway, 33
- Glenn Costes of Philippines, 40
Dennis also spoke briefly to reporters, saying the foursome was “very happy” to be back on Kenyan soil.
“Thank you for your support,” he said.
Elisabeth Rasmusson, the aid group's secretary general, told a news conference in Oslo Monday that the four are unharmed.
"We are happy and relieved that our employees have been found and have been freed," she told reporters.
Canadian Foreign Affairs officials expressed relief at the news.
"We are elated by the safe rescue of Canadian citizens taken hostage in Kenya," a spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada told The Canadian Press in an email.
Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said the High Commission in Nairobi will provide support to the released Canadians.
On Friday, four gunmen attacked a two-vehicle convoy from the Norwegian Refugee Council that was travelling along the road outside Kenya's massive Dadaab refugee camp.
They killed one Kenyan driver and wounded two other Kenyan passengers. The gunmen then took one of the two vehicles and the four workers. Rasmusson was one of those present during Friday's attack but was not taken.
The gunmen later abandoned the vehicle and began walking toward the Somali border.
The Ras Kamboni militia group in Somalia, which regularly works with both Somali government and Kenyan military forces, took part of the credit for Monday’s rescue.
Abdinasir Serar, a representative with the group, said they heard of Friday's kidnapping and pursued the kidnappers. The militia members caught up with the kidnappers Monday morning just inside of Somalia.
They killed one of the kidnappers but the other three reportedly escaped.
While the kidnappers’ identities have yet to be revealed, CTV’s Roger Smith reported Monday they may have been members of Al Shabaab, a militant group with ties to al Qaeda that has engaged in kidnappings and other attacks in the region.
The four rescued workers were taken to the Somali town of Dhobley and then flown to Nairobi.
Sadazai, who hails from Gatineau, Que., had returned to Kenya in February when she was named deputy director of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s operations in Somalia and Kenya. She had worked in the region for three years beginning in 2007, before spending a couple of years with the agency in Pakistan.
Dennis had worked in Kenya for much of the past year. He is relatively new to the agency, but has worked for several humanitarian organizations, including Doctors Without Borders.
The Dadaab refugee camp was set up in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing violence. It has since become the world's biggest refugee camp, with nearly 500,000 residents.
Rolf Vestvick of the Norwegian Refugee Council said Monday that the council sent the convoy out without armed escorts because they were travelling in a part of the camp that is considered safe. Also, police and military vehicles havebeen the target of roadside bombs, said Vestvick.
According to Vestvick, the agency scaled down, but did not stop, its operations in the camp over the weekend in the wake of the kidnapping.
“We hope we will be able to continue our work,” Vestvick told CTV News Channel, saying the agency will first thoroughly review its operations.
With files from The Canadian Press