Suspected Islamic extremists abduct two Cuban doctors in Kenya
Cuban doctor Ralfis Carbort looks at a map of the world before leaving with the Henry Reeve contingent of Cuban doctors Havana, Cuba, on March 26, 2019. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)
Tom Odula, The Associated Press
Published Friday, April 12, 2019 8:10AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 12, 2019 2:54PM EDT
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Suspected Islamist militants abducted two Cuban doctors in an ambush that killed a police bodyguard in northern Kenya near the Somali border, officials said Friday.
It was the second abduction of a foreigner in five months likely carried out by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which is based in Somalia.
The gunmen may have taken the doctors into Somalia, police spokesman Charlse Owino said. He said the doctors' driver had been detained to help with investigations.
The doctors were ambushed as they headed to work, said David Ohito, communications director for the Mandera county government.
Gov. Ali Roba said the gunmen's vehicle blocked the doctors' vehicle "and opened fire at their bodyguards, killing one instantly." Al-Shabab was suspected, the governor said.
A police official identified the doctors as Dr. Assel Herrera Correa, a general physician, and Dr. Landy Rodriguez, a surgeon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Cuba's Health Ministry issued a statement saying Herrera is from the eastern province of Las Tunas while Rodriguez is from the central province of Villa Clara.
Herrera's Facebook page shows recent photos of him in Kenya and indicates he earlier worked in Venezuela and Brazil.
The ministry said it had established channels of communication with Kenyan authorities and established a governmental working group to deal with the case.
At least 100 Cuban doctors have been brought in Kenya in an exchange program that saw about 50 Kenyans travel to Cuba for specialized training last year.
In November an Italian volunteer, Silvia Romano, was kidnapped in southern Kenya's coastal region by gunmen linked to al-Shabab. She has not been found.
Kidnapping for ransom was a frequent al-Shabab activity before 2011. That's when Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight the extremists who had kidnapped four Europeans that year. Kenya said the abductions threatened tourism, a key pillar of the economy.
Kenyan troops are now part of the multinational African Union force bolstering Somalia's weak government against al-Shabab. The extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for its troop presence in Somalia.
Al-Shabab's deadly attack on a luxury hotel complex in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, in January was one of numerous attacks inside Kenya that have killed hundreds since 2011.
Mandera county's border area has borne the brunt of the attacks.
Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed.