Police in Kenya and Somalia were scrambling Friday to rescue two Cuban doctors abducted that morning in the Kenyan border city of Mandera and taken into Somalia, Kenya police Inspector General Hillary N. Mutyambai confirmed.
“Following the morning incident in Mandera County where two Cuban doctors were abducted, our security agencies are working with Somalia government security agencies to pursue the abductors into Somalia with the objective of rescuing the victims,” Mutyambai wrote on Twitter. “We will keep you updated on the progress of the operation.”
Kenya police said two Toyota Probox vehicles blocked the government car carrying the two Cuban doctors to the Mandera city hospital around 9 a.m. Friday. One police guard in the vehicle was killed in the incident and the other escaped.
The kidnappers forced the vehicle into Somalia, police added. The car was recovered, and the driver was being questioned.
Kenyan news media and the Agence France Presse news agency identified the Cuban doctors as surgeon Landy Rodríguez Hernández and general medicine specialist Assel Herrera Correa.
They are part of a group of about 100 Cuban doctors sent to Kenya in 2018 as part of a government-to-government agreement.
Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health confirmed the doctors’ identities and said it had informed relatives on the island in a brief announcement published by the Cuban News Agency. It added that a “government working group was set up to follow this sensitive matter.”
The Cuban doctors were interviewed by the local media after they arrived in Mandera in June 2018.
“The first thing I did was to check the internet and the security situation shocked me. It was all about bombs! I did not know what to do and my colleagues felt sorry for me. Cuban doctors work in all sorts of conditions within 75 countries,” Correa was quoted as telling the Mwakilishi publication. “Unlike what I saw on the net before coming here, this place is secure and I would not mind my wife and daughter joining me.”
Correa’s Facebook page says he was born in Puerto Padre, in the eastern province of Las Tunas, and served previous assignments in Brazil and Botswana.
Rodríguez was quoted as saying that he treated about 10 patients per day, communicating with them through a translation app.
The Mwakilishi report said the Kenyan government was paying the doctors $4,000 a month, although the Cuban government usually pockets up to 75 percent of the salaries of island doctors on foreign assignments.
Authorities have not said whether the kidnappers were members of Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic extremist group, linked to al-Qaida, which has carried out similar attacks in the past. The U.S. government issued a travel alert in April warning U.S. citizens to stay away from Mandera and other parts of the border with Somalia because of the high risk of kidnappings and terrorist attacks.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Monica Juma wrote on Twitter that her government was in contact with Cuban authorities.
Cuba’s official news media did not report on the incident until Friday afternoon. The Cuban Foreign Ministry repeated the Public Health Ministry announcement published by the Cuban News Agency.
El Nuevo Herald calls to the Cuban embassy in Nairobi were forwarded to an answering machine. Several attempts to contact the Kenya police were unsuccessful.