This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Briton kidnapped in Somalia was trying to free yacht couple
Uncertain fate: The kidnapped Briton before he was seized - we have obscured his face at Save The Children's request
The British man kidnapped at gunpoint in Somalia has been involved in trying to negotiate the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler, the retired couple snatched from their yacht in the Indian Ocean nearly a year ago, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
It is feared that the experienced foreign aid worker may have been taken at gunpoint by the same group holding the Chandlers.
The Briton’s name is known to The Mail on Sunday but we have agreed not to identify him at the request of Save The Children.
Today the charity confirmed he is 'well', 'being looked after and is in good spirits'
He had been conducting a feasibility study for the charity in the war-torn country, where they hoped to set up a feeding and medical base for children.
He and a Somali national were abducted from a guesthouse compound in Adado in the early hours of Friday morning.
The Somalian was released hours later.
The Briton’s abduction comes weeks after he warned that the Chandlers were at the centre of a dispute between the pirates who had kidnapped them and, Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militants attempting to take over the country.
In his report, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, he says: ‘The dynamics of finance are also elements within the equation. The conflict in South Central Somalia has essentially been stalemated for months.
‘A significant element in this is based on the severe cash-flow crisis experienced by all actors . . . probable in light of the latest moves by some western country’s actions geared towards freezing Al-Shabaab funds and blocking any sources deemed to support the organisation.
‘With their military advantage, Al- Shabaab could tax pirates and share in profits...Al-Shabaab may also have decided to attempt a “hostile takeover” of the two hostages.’
After writing the report the Briton travelled to Somalia from his base in Kenya to conduct the study for Save the Children. No international humanitarian organisations have been able to operate in the area for several years due to its volatility and the lack of a stable government.
But sources say that while in Adado, the Briton intended to make contact with the land-based pirates holding the Chandlers and break the deadlock in negotiations for their release.
The Briton, who is married to a Canadian vet and has dual British and Zimbabwean citizenship, is well-connected in the NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) community in Kenya and has written extensively about humanitarian operations in Somalia. He has also worked in Chad, Indonesia and Cameroon.
He recently wrote of the ‘extreme/variable risk’ in the Adado area, putting it in the red-alert category. He described the operation of aid agencies in Somalia as ‘a dysfunctional continuum of mutually-acceptable paralysis’ with locals working unsupervised and foreign staff working out of Nairobi.
Captives: Rachel and Paul Chandler are still being held by pirates who kidnapped them on their yacht a year ago off the coast of Somalia
A former adviser to the Danish Refugee Council in the Horn of Africa, the Briton is familiar with the complexities of the mainly clan-based conflicts in Somalia, including groups like Al-Shabaab, the Islamic hardliners, their closest rivals Hizbul Islamiya and others such as the Ahlu Sunna Waljama militia which supports the country’s transitional government.
He arrived in Somalia about a month ago and has been using Twitter and his personal website to update friends and colleagues on his progress.
He posted a series of pictures of gun-toting locals, armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, he had met in the streets of the capital and on his trips into the interior alongside his last blog.
He wrote: ‘So “they” say 65 per cent of Al-Shabaab have left Mogadishu.
As British Embassy officials and his own colleagues try to establish who kidnapped the man, two theories are emerging.
One is that Al-Shabaab, bringing its fighting force ever closer to Adado from the North, could have taken him in revenge for recent clashes with its rivals.
The other is that land-based pirates who use Adado town as the home base for their wives and families snatched him to boost their chances of ransom payments for Paul and Rachel Chandler.
Map of the pirates' kidnap
The Chandlers, both in their 50s, took early retirement to leave their home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and sail around the world.
Their yacht the Lynn Rival was waylaid by armed pirates about 50 nautical miles west of the Seychelles on October 23 last year as they were heading for Dar-es-Salaam on the Tanzanian coast.
Among those trying to secure their release is the self-styled President of Adado, Mohamed Aden, who until recently had transformed the area into a safe haven with a functioning police force, active businesses and new schools.
A member of the dominant group there, the Salebaan sub-clan, his militia has kept the peace by virtue of its private supply of rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and tanks.
He told The Mail on Sunday recently: ‘I am doing everything I can to negotiate with the pirate group so that there will be no bloodshed and no further delay.’
But the president has clearly been marginalised by recent outbreaks of violence between Al-Shabaab and the pro-government militia of Ahlu Sunna Waljama.
Conflicting reports last night said that the kidnapped aid workers had been forced into vehicles owned by Al-Shabaab and heading for the Galguduud area they control, and conversely that Adado had been taken over by the Sufi moderates, Ahlu Sunna Waljama and that they may be holding the men.
A local source commented: ‘The worst scenario is that it is the pirates who seized them as part of a plan to make further demands for the Chandlers.’
Last night the Foreign Office refused to comment and referred all calls to Save the Children.