German aid worker kidnapped in northern Somalia

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN

Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Gunmen kidnapped a German aid worker in northern Somalia on Tuesday after exchanging fire with his bodyguards, a local government official said.

Mohamud Said Nor, the governor of Sanag region, said the German man worked for a relief group called Agro Action. A foreign woman traveling with the man was not kidnapped, Nor said. The reasons were unclear.

Sanag is in an area claimed by both the semiautonomous region of Puntland and the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

"His bodyguards exchanged fire with more than 10 gunmen who attacked the car the German man was traveling in," Nor said. "After the exchange of gunfire intensified, the driver stopped the car and ran away. Then the gunmen come to the car and pulled the German man out of the car and took him on foot to a nearby mountainous area."

"We have sent policemen and military personnel to the mountainous area. We are hopeful to find him soon," Nor added.

Agro Action confirmed the kidnapping in a statement that said its employee was stopped by armed men while driving from the town of Er Gabo, about 150 miles west of the commercial town of Bossaso, to the coast, where he was to meet with fishermen. The statement said two other aid workers -- one German, one Somali -- and a driver were not abducted. The driver was injured in the exchange of gunfire, it said.

Agro Action said the abducted man was a project leader who had been working in the Horn of Africa region for nearly two years as part of a large food security project.

It was unclear how many staff German Agro Action, also known as Welthungerhilfe, had in Somalia.

A Spanish doctor and Argentine nurse were seized in Somalia in December and held for a week. In December, a French cameraman was held for eight days after being seized near the capital of Puntland.

Last month, three foreign aid workers and a Somali were killed when their vehicle hit a land mine in the southern Somali town of Kismayo.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when rival warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The lawless Horn of Africa nation is impoverished, awash with weapons and divided between rival clans.

Northern Somalia has escaped much of the turmoil of southern Somalia. But Puntland is a staging post for human traffickers running boats into Yemen, and piracy has been rampant off its coast. In recent months, however, the U.S. Navy has led international patrols to combat piracy in the region, cutting down on the pirates' ability to rob merchant ships and vessels carrying aid -- and perhaps leading some to seek hostages for ransom on land.