Al Shabaab militants captured a United Nations helicopter carrying two Somali men and several foreigners when it made an emergency landing in an area controlled by the Islamist group, a military official said on Wednesday.
The aircraft encountered a defect shortly after taking off from Beledweyne city in central Somalia, before it landed near Hindhere village, bordering Galguduud region.
“I can confirm that there was an incident involving a UN-contracted helicopter that took place today in Galmudug in Somalia,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists in New York at the regular daily briefing.
“Response efforts are underway, but I think you will all understand for the sake of the safety of all those involved we are not going to say anymore at this point,” he said, adding that “our primary concern is for their safety so we will leave it at that for now.”
There were eight passengers on board, including foreigners, and a rescue is underway, according to SONNA.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) said the helicopter “was conducting an air medical evacuation” and that more information would be released when it becomes available.
This comes weeks after Maalim Ayman, a senior leader of the al-Shabaab militant group operating in Somalia and Kenya, was killed on December 17 by a joint military operation between the Somali and US forces.
Somali Minister for Information Daud Aweis announced the death of Hyman on Friday.
“Ayman was accountable for planning multiple lethal terrorist attacks in Somalia and nearby countries,” Aweis said in a statement on social media at the time.
Ayman is responsible for a terrorist attack on US and Kenyan personnel at Kenya’s Manda Bay Airfield on January 5, 2020, US officials say.
Al Shabaab, linked to al Qaeda, has been waging an insurgency against the Somali government since 2006 in a bid to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
Last week, the Indian Navy has successfully rescued a ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the North Arabian Sea on Thursday, in a daring operation that showcased its naval prowess and regional influence.
The ship, MV Lila Norfolk, was carrying 21 crew members, 15 of whom were Indian nationals, when it was seized by five to six armed pirates east of the Somali port town of Eyl. The crew members managed to send a distress signal to a UK marine agency, which alerted the Indian Navy.
The rescue operation was hailed as a major achievement for the Indian Navy, which has been actively involved in anti-piracy operations in the region since 2008. The navy has also been expanding its presence and cooperation with African countries, as part of India’s strategic and economic interests.
The navy has deployed one of its most advanced warships, Sumedha, in Madagascar, as part of its ongoing outreach programme in Africa. The navy has also strengthened its military ties with Mozambique, Namibia, and Mauritius, among other nations, in recent months.