MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Gunmen kidnapped an American man in the northern Somali town of Galkayo on Saturday, officials said, the same day an airstrike killed a senior insurgent leader with ties to al-Qaida in another part of the country.
The gunmen surrounded the man’s car shortly after the man left the airport, said policeman Abdi Hassan Nur, who witnessed the incident. He said they then forced the American into another vehicle.
Galkayo is on the border between the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland and a region known as Galmudug. It is ruled by forces friendly to the U.N.-backed Somali government.
A minister from the Galmudug administration said the gunmen severely beat the foreigner’s Somali companion when he begged them not to take the man. The minister spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
A staff member at the Embassy Hotel, where the man was staying, said the American had gone to the airport to drop off an Indian colleague. The hotel said that the man had both American and German citizenship. The staff member asked not to be identified because he was not supposed to give out information about guests.
State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said Saturday night that the department was investigating the reported kidnapping.
“We are aware of the reports of that kidnapping in northern Somalia,” she said. “We are concerned about the individual’s safety and well-being. We were working with contacts in Kenya and Somalia to ascertain further information.”
“The U.S. condemns kidnapping of any kind and we call for the immediate release of the victim,” she added.
Moore said she could not confirm the name of the victim or any other details.
In October, gunmen kidnapped an American woman and a Danish man working for the Danish Demining Group from the same town. They are still being held.
Kidnapping for ransom is has become increasingly common in Somalia over the past five years. At least four aid workers, a French military official, a British tourist taken from Kenya and hundreds of sailors are being held captive.
In a separate incident in the south of the country outside the capital of Mogadishu, a British-Lebanese commander of the al-Shabab militant group was killed along with two others when a missile struck the car they were traveling in, al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Rage said.
Rage identified the British-Lebanese commander as Bilal-Berjawi, saying he was a close associate of late al-Qaida operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania who was killed by a Somali soldier in June 2011.
Further south, another airstrike killed six people near the insurgent stronghold of Kismayo on Saturday, according to Sheik Mohamud Abdi, a senior al-Shabab commander. Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October amid concerns that Somalia’s 21-year-old civil war was spilling over the countries’ joint border.
Associated Press Writer Norman Gomlak contributed from Atlanta.
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