MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali Islamist rebel group al Shabaab said on Wednesday it was not behind the kidnapping of a British woman from a luxury Kenyan beach resort, and Britain said it as working hard to secure her release.
Unidentified gunmen raided the remote Kiwayu Safari Village in the early hours of Sunday, shooting dead publishing executive David Tebbutt, 58, and taking hostage his wife Judith, 56, before escaping by boat.
“Al Shabaab has not abducted any Briton from Kenya. We believe bandits carried out the attack,” a senior official of the al Qaeda-linked group told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“We shall release a statement later that al Shabaab is not involved,” the rebel official said.
An al Shabaab recruitment officer in Kismayu, 200 km (120 miles) north of the Kenyan border, said Judith Tebbutt had been brought to the port city on Tuesday but her whereabouts were now unknown.
She said the attack had been carried out by militia fighters normally sympathetic to al Shabaab but on this occasion funded by local pirate financiers.
“Pirate investors provided a boat and weapons for the raid. The pirate gang want now to demand a ransom but al Shabaab are against the idea,” said the rebel recruiter, who is married to a senior al Shabaab commander.
She said she received the information by telephone from al Shabaab’s top administration official in Kismayu, the nerve centre for the rebels’ operations in southern Somalia.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had chaired a crisis meeting on the kidnapping Tuesday.
“We are doing everything we possibly can on this desperately tragic case,” he told parliament on Wednesday.
“The foreign secretary (William Hague) has met with the family today. I think on some of these cases it is not right to air all of these issues in public but I can reassure ... the Tebbutt family (that) we will do everything possible to help.”
Britain says it has a strict policy of not negotiating ransom deals with groups it brands terrorists.
Kenyan police have said they believe the gang were likely to be acting on the orders of a larger group of militia men and have probably fled to Somalia.
Kidnapping for ransom has chiefly been carried out by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean but Somali gunmen have attacked Westerners just across the border with Kenya on several occasions.
Three aid workers were kidnapped in July 2009, and two western nuns in November 2008.
The south of Somalia bordering Kenya is mainly controlled by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents, who have been fighting the Western-backed government in the capital Mogadishu for more than four years.
Additional reporting by Sahra Abdi in Nairobi and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by George Obulutsa