French woman abducted by suspected pirates in Kenya

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The Independent Online

A Western official says suspected Somali pirates have kidnapped a French woman from an exclusive resort island in northern Kenya, near where a British woman was abducted and her husband murdered last month.

The Western official said the French woman was kidnapped off Manda Island this morning, just across the channel from Lamu, where David Tebbutt was shot and his wife Judith kidnapped. The official, who is in Kenya, spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak on the record.

Lamu resident Muhidin Athman says people near the scene of the kidnapping heard gunshots around 3am.

The abducted woman is elderly and often uses a wheelchair, according to a resident.

The Kenyan navy and police were chasing the suspected boat at sea, said Ambrose Munyasia, a top police official on the coast.

Mr Athman said the Frenchwoman owns a house on Manda Island and lives there half the year. She gets around with the help of a wheelchair or personal assistants, he said.

Police were at the scene this morning.

Manda Island is just across the channel from Lamu, an old resort town. Two kidnappings within a month have the potential to greatly harm the tourist trade in the area just before the busy holiday season.

Pirates once focused primarily on big ships at sea, but in recent years have also attacked private yachts, capturing Europeans or Americans on private trips.

As US and European navies have increased their patrols of the Indian Ocean, and as large ships have increased their on-board defences, pirates may be looking for easier targets to keep ransom payments coming in.

Pirates kidnapped and held a British couple - the Chandlers - for more than a year.

"It's profit-motived action. As we know the British couple we captured before paid huge ransoms, so sometimes these targets are a big gain that gives you more than ships," a man who identified himself as a pirate commander named Bile Hussein told The Associated Press last week.