Somali kidnappers have escaped into Somalia with their French hostage hours after a gun battle with Kenyan security forces who were trying to free the elderly and disabled woman, a cabinet minister said.
"They've crossed the border into Ras Kamboni. There are two aircraft on top of them monitoring their position," Najib Balala, the tourism minister, told the Reuters news agency on Saturday.
Earlier, Kenyan coastguards had mounted a search for 66-year-old Marie Dedidue Manrd's, who was kidnapped in the early hours of Saturday from the north Kenyan coast in Ras Kitau near Manda Beach.
Balala said some of the kidnappers had been wounded in the gun battle.
"We can see that a few of the [kidnappers] are injured. They are 25km away from the Kenya border," he said, confirming the group were now on land.
Residents said the abduction, the second in three weeks involving a foreigner, appeared to have been a planned, targeted attack, according to witnesses.
The armed gang landed on Manda island by boat and fired several gunshots before ordering the woman, her boyfriend and the house-helps to lie face to the floor.
One of the gunmen grabbed the victim and carried her to an awaiting boat.
Her Kenyan boyfriend, John Lepapa, said: "All they were saying was 'where is the foreigner, where is the foreigner?'".
Lepapa, 39, said he had been questioned by counter-terrorism police several hours after the attack and that he and his partner had returned two days earlier from France, where they spend part of the year.
"My girlfriend pleaded with them and told them to take whatever they wanted from the house, including the money and to spare her life," said Lepapa. "But they would not listen."
The French foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
'Commotion on water channel'
Gunmen with links to Somalia have kidnapped foreign visitors on the Lamu archipelago, raising fears that organised criminal networks across the border are increasing their reach.
|Nazanine Moshiri reports from Ras Kitau on the Kenyan coast
Abdallah Sadili, who has rented out the cottage to the woman for about eight years and lives on neighbouring Lamu island, said he was woken by at least two cracks of gunfire from across the narrow channel of water.
"At first I prayed and then tried to go back to sleep, but there was such a commotion across the water that I couldn't," Sadili said.
"I went across the channel by boat and realised she was gone."
Abu Chiaba, the legislator for Lamu East, said the gunmen raided the house under the cover of darkness.
"Armed people came into Manda by boat in the middle of the night. The elderly French woman is well known in the area, she comes to Manda regularly," Chiaba told reporters.
In early September, gunmen attacked British tourists at a camp resort a short speedboat ride away from Lamu, killing the man and kidnapping his wife.
Somali pirates said the woman was being held in Somalia.
"We have deployed a contingent of police officers to the area. The army is already there and a police helicopter is in the air," said provincial police officer Adoli Aggrey.
The latest kidnapping risks dealing a serious blow to Kenya's tourism sector, a major source of foreign exchange.