When an award-winning Californian surf journalist called Michael Scott Moore decided to take a break from the business of catching waves, he told friends that he intended to visit Somalia to write a book about the country's headline-prone professional pirates.
Little did Moore know exactly how hands-on the research project would get. Yesterday, he was identified as the latest unfortunate young American citizen to be kidnapped at gunpoint and held hostage in the African country's lawless northern region of Galmudug.
Officials believe that Moore was seized by a gang of approximately 15 gunmen last Saturday, on the road to Galkayo airport. The location is identical to the one where Jessica Buchanan, the 32-year-old freed by US Navy Seals last week, was seized in October.
"With regard to a US citizen reportedly kidnapped in northern Somalia, we are concerned about this individual's safety and well-being," said a State Department spokesman. "We have been in contact with the individual's family. We are also working with our contacts in Kenya and in Somalia to try to get more information."
The Somalia Report website, a forum for Western journalists in the country, said that his attackers were travelling in two large SUVs. They took their victim into the jungle and are now believed to be holding him at Ceel Huur, a small village on the Indian Ocean.
All of the kidnappers are members of the Sa'ad clan, who work as pirates under the leadership of an elder called Ali Duulaaye. They apparently suspect that Moore is a Western spy briefing his government about their activities, and are refusing to even start discussing his release until a ransom has been paid.
Moore's plight is only worsened by recent events in the region, where tensions have escalated following the dramatic dawn raid that freed Ms Buchanan and a fellow hostage, a 60-year-old Dane, Poul Thisted. Eight pirates were killed during the operation, a toll that will only add to the jumpiness of their surviving colleagues.
The autonomous Galmudug region's president, Mohamed Alim, recently raised the political temperature by promising to fight pirates "with all we've got", and calling on Western governments to offer military help.
Despite the fighting talk, he is reported to have attempted to open peaceful negotiations to secure Moore's release early last week, but with no success. The amount of the ransom demanded by Mr Duulaaye as a condition for talks beginning has not been revealed.
Ecoterra International, a human rights group operating in Somalia, says that it believes that Moore is being held with two other men, one from Israel and another from the Seychelles. They were seized while travelling on a motor boat off the country's coast earlier this year.
Moore is a native of Redondo Beach in Southern California, the location where surfing was first imported to the US mainland by George Freeth in the early 20th century. Moore's first book, a history of the sport called Sweetness and Blood, was acclaimed by literary critics and the surfing community alike and was one of The Economist magazine's books of the year in 2010.
He has spent recent years living partly in Germany, and is an editor-at-large for Der Spiegel's online operation. During an interview with The New York Times in 2010, he announced that he would be writing the book on Somalia in conjunction with a novel about surfing.
"I went to Africa late last year to write a series of articles about Somali pirates," he said. "A book about piracy has the same appeal to me as the surf book: it has the same clash between hard fact and clichéd mythology. It would also involve a great deal of travel."
Despite the success of the dramatic rescue mission carried out this week, US officials were briefing yesterday that it is at present highly unlikely that they will attempt to liberate Moore in a similar fashion to Ms Buchanan. A source told NBC News that operations occur on a "case-by-case basis", but that, as a rule, the US military is "not in the business of hostage rescues".Reuse content