MOGADISHU, Somalia – Two Cuban doctors kidnapped by Al-Shabaab militants have been released, 18 months after their dramatic abduction, raising eyebrows over the doctor’s security in Kenya, where their government had reached an agreement with Nairobi as part of strengthening bilateral ties.
Surgeon Landy Rodríguez and general medicine specialist Assel Herrera were kidnapped on April 12, 2019, when the car in which they were traveling to the hospital in the border town of Mandera was attacked by alleged members of the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab.
A contingent of Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] retrieved from the Ranger Squad and Special Forces have tracked down the two doctors, but the Kenyan government has been cautious about releasing the status report to the public. But there were reports last year that the two were in a village in Gedo, in the state of Jubaland.
Security reports showed that the Kenyan government had reached out to elders from both sides of the border to negotiate their release, informing Al-Shabaab of its decision to ask for $ 1.5 million in ransom, which was rejected by Nairobi. However, the Kenyan government would later deny the reports.
But after months of such and rescue, the Cuban government released a preliminary report last year stating that doctors were “alive and jovial” in a statement released by several media houses on the communist island. Occasionally, the governments of Somalia, Kenya and Cuba have been working for their release.
Over the weekend, the Associated Press reports that the two doctors were released by Al-Shabaab and are currently in custody with Somalia’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Security Agency. [NISA], who are said to have played a key role in the negotiations for their release.
A senior Somali intelligence official told the Associated Press that doctors were released over the weekend after months of negotiations with their detainees. He declined to give further details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Several sources told the AP that Somali intelligence, at the request of the Cuban government, was negotiating the release of the doctors after receiving a video showing them a few months ago. Searching and rescuing the two doctors has pretty much been a top secret among all the stakeholders involved.
Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, took to Twitter on October 5 to inform the public about the progress of rescuing the drugs. The minister said he had shared with his Somali colleague Ahmed Ise Awad about the two Cuban doctors who were kidnapped almost a year and six months ago while working in Kenya.
“I had a telephone conversation with Somalia’s Foreign Minister, Mr Ahmed Isse Awad. I appreciated the support and efforts of his government to guarantee the safe return of our abducted doctors, “he said in a statement posted on his verified Twitter account.
Rodríguez also said that during the dialogue with his Somali counterpart, they agreed that they would “strengthen bilateral ties” between Mogadishu and Havana for future cooperation. He did not mention specific areas, but Cuba is known for “hiring” its medical staff in other countries to improve health care.
During the sophisticated attack, just a few kilometers from Mandera Referral Hospital, a bodyguard associated with the doctors was killed on the spot. Authorities in Nairobi would later arrest the driver of the two doctors over allegations that he planned the abduction, and he has since been in and out of court.
Since then, the island’s highest authorities have maintained frequent telephone contacts with Nairobi and Mogadishu governments to discuss the possible release and “safe return” of the medical partner. The presidents of Cuba and Kenya spoke in June last year about the efforts to free the two doctors from the island who were kidnapped in the African country.
At the time, the Somali-based al-Shabab was suspected of the kidnapping. The extremist group has promised retaliation against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight extremists, which has contributed to frequent attacks on Kenyan territories in northeastern and coastal regions.
Currently, there are close to 3,500 KDF troops stationed in Sectors II and VI in AMISOM jurisdictions within Jubaland. Since the entrance, KDF troops have been hailed for containing the Al-Shabaab attacks in the Horn of Africa, but have often been accused of human rights violations.
KDF troops are ready to leave the country in 2021 under the Somali transition plan [STP] but there are chances of extending their stay if the Somali national army does not take full security responsibility. KDF plans to retreat and retreat to the porous border.
The release of the doctors could further raise questions about the merger of NISA agents with Al-Shabaab given that it is the two teams that negotiated. Earlier this year, KDF accused NISA operators of allegedly sharing intelligence with Al-Shabaab, a claim that was rejected by the Somali government as “false and misleading”.