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11 Jan, 2024 13:11

Militants capture UN helicopter in African state

Somali officials say al-Shabaab extremists have killed one person and abducted five others
Militants capture UN helicopter in African state

Members of the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab have seized a United Nations helicopter in central Somalia, killing one person on board and capturing five others, authorities in the East African nation reported on Wednesday.

The aircraft, which belongs to the UN mission in Somalia (UNSOM), is said to have made an emergency landing due to an engine failure in the village of Xindheere, in the Galmudug region, which is controlled by al-Shabaab. The Al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group is waging a war against the Somali government, in an attempt to establish its own rule based on a hardline interpretation of Sharia law.

Mohamed Abdi Aden Gaboobe, internal security minister of Galmudug state, told the Associated Press that six foreign nationals and one Somali were in the helicopter. The insurgents detained five of them and killed one who attempted to flee, the official reportedly added.

However, according to an internal UN memo cited by Al Jazeera, nine passengers were inside the aircraft, including military personnel and a third-party contractor.

All UN flights have been temporarily suspended in the vicinity until further notice,” the news agency quoted the memo as saying.

Later on Wednesday, the UN issued a statement announcing that one of its contracted helicopters was involved in an “aviation incident” in Galmudug while conducting a medical evacuation.

The UN is in the process of gathering all relevant information. Response efforts are underway. More information will be shared when it becomes available,” it said without providing further details.

UNSOM was established in 2013 to assist in the formation of a federal government in the Horn of Africa country, which has been plagued by decades of violence and political instability following the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime. Civil society organization Transparency International has consistently ranked Somalia as one of the least peaceful countries in the world.

The fragile central government in Mogadishu has struggled to fight off al-Shabaab despite foreign military support. An African Union peacekeeping force drove the militant group out of the capital in 2011, but it still controls large swaths of land in Somalia's southern and central regions, carrying out sporadic bombings and gun attacks on civilians and military infrastructure.

In October 2022, al-Shabaab carried out twin car bombings in Mogadishu, killing more than 100 people and injuring 300. The incident occurred just over two months after President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud launched a major counter-insurgency mission, having promised to wage “all-out war” on jihadi groups when he took power in May 2022.

At least 54 African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) peacekeepers were killed earlier last year in an al-Shabaab assault on a base that housed Ugandan troops. The ATMIS force, which is estimated to have around 20,000 troops, was established in 2022 to replace the African Union Mission (AMISOM). The operation, which includes forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, intends to hand over its responsibilities to Somalia's army and police force by the end of the year.