Cuban Doctors Abducted in Kenya, and Officials Point to the Shabab
NAIROBI, Kenya — Two Cuban doctors were abducted near Kenya’s border with Somalia on Friday, in a bold attack that left one police officer dead and that officials say was probably linked to the Shabab militant group.
The abduction took place early Friday when the doctors were on their way to work. They left their residence and were traveling to Mandera County Referral Hospital, less than two miles from the border, in a government vehicle with two police officers escorting them, when two vehicles boxed them in, the police said.
One police officer was shot and killed, and the attackers spirited the doctors across the border in their own vehicle. The car was later recovered, along with a driver, who was taken in for questioning, the police said.
A spokesman for the police, Charles Owino, said the attackers might be linked to the Shabab militant group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, but he left open the possibility that it could be another group.
While the Kenyan authorities did not release the names of the doctors, Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health identified them as Assel Herrera Correa, a general practitioner from the province of Las Tunas, and Landy Rodríguez Hernández, a surgeon from Villa Clara.
“My reaction was bad when I checked the internet,” Dr. Rodríguez said in the interview. He said his search showed that the Shabab had carried out attacks in the area. Dr. Herrera told the network that he had also worked in Brazil and Venezuela in “very hard conditions.”
Doctors are particularly needed in the region because local health workers have fled in fear of Shabab attacks. Dr. Herrera told the television network that he saw around 20 patients a day, while Dr. Rodríguez performed 10 surgeries daily.
The two were part of a group of about 100 Cuban doctors deployed to Kenya in June 2018, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, to help the country put a universal health coverage program in place.
For decades, Cuba has sent doctors to countries around the world as part of a government-sponsored plan to provide training and assistance.
Some 400,000 health care workers have been sent on medical missions in 164 nations in the past five decades, according to the Cuban government. They have worked to combat the Ebola virus in Africa and cholera in Haiti, as well as having responded to natural disasters and other epidemics.
The abduction comes in the wake of the State Department on Tuesday issuing an advisory urging Americans not to travel to Kenya’s coastal areas and regions on the Somalia border because of the threat of terrorism.
Kenyan officials have condemned the abduction and vowed to find the doctors.
Hillary Mutyambai, Kenya’s newly appointed head of police, said that the country was working closely with the government of Somalia to ensure the doctors were returned safely.
The Shabab claimed responsibility for a major attack on the DusitD2 hotel and office complex in Nairobi in January that left 21 people dead, and it regularly carries out attacks in Somalia.
The Trump administration stepped up airstrikes against the group this year, and the United States estimates 5,000 to 7,000 Shabab fighters are active in Somalia. The African Union Mission in Somalia, or Amisom, has also been actively fighting the militant group in Somalia since early 2007.