Al-Shabab captures UN helicopter in central Somalia

Several passengers reportedly taken by the armed group after helicopter carrying nine people lands in the Galgaduud region.

Al-Shabaab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia
Al-Shabab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia [File: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Photo]

A helicopter belonging to the United Nations mission in Somalia has been captured by al-Shabab after it landed in territory held by the armed group.

Several passengers were reportedly seized in Galmudug state on Wednesday by the al-Qaeda-linked group which has wreaked violence in the Horn of Africa for years.

The helicopter landed close to Gadoon village in the Galgaduud region due to a technical glitch, an internal UN memo seen by Al Jazeera stated. A UN official in Mogadishu also confirmed the incident to Al Jazeera.

According to the memo, there were nine passengers on the plane including military personnel and a third-party contractor. At least six of the passengers were reportedly seized by al-Shabab.

“All UN flights have been temporarily suspended in the vicinity until further notice,” the memo read.

The aircraft encountered a defect shortly after taking off from Beledweyne city in central Somalia, Major Hassan Ali told the Reuters news agency.

“Two Somali men and several foreigners were onboard. It was also carrying medical supplies and it was supposed to transport injured soldiers from Galguduud region,” he said.

When asked about the reported incident, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed the “incident involved a UN-contracted helicopter that took place today in Galmudug in Somalia”.

“Response efforts are under way,” he told reporters in New York.

“For the sake of the safety of all those on board, we’re not going to say anything more at this point. We are fully engaged in trying to resolve it,” Dujarric added.

Al-Shabaab has led a bloody 16-year insurgency against the fragile central government in Mogadishu, which has struggled to blunt their violence despite considerable foreign military support.

There was no immediate comment from the Somali government about Wednesday’s incident.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies