Around eight gunmen kidnapped an Italian volunteer along Kenya’s coast and wounded several people, including three children.
Five people were injured by the attackers, who shot indiscriminately at around 8pm on Tuesday in the Chakama trading centre in the county of Kilifi, said Kenya’s police chief, Joseph Boinnet.
The gunmen abducted Silvia Costanza Romano, 23, an Italian woman working for Africa Milele Onlus, according to Mr Boinnet and Italy’s foreign ministry. The motive for the abduction is not clear and the identity of the attackers is not yet known, he said.
The National Police Service wishes to inform the public that last evening at about 8pm, a gang of men armed with AK 47 rifles attacked Chakama Trading centre in Chakama, Makongeni sub location in Kilifi county, about 80 kilometres west of Malindi town. 1/6— National Police Service-Kenya (@NPSOfficial_KE) November 21, 2018
The gunmen came looking for a white woman, said Ronald Kazungu Ngala, 19, who said he witnessed Ms Romano’s violent kidnapping.
He heard gunfire which prompted all the shops in the area to close and many people in the trading centre to hide.
At around 7.30pm six men, some armed with guns and others with machetes and clubs stormed into the Milele offices and demanded to know where is the “mgeni” (Swahili for visitor).
“I told them she had left to go and get a power bank, but they didn’t believe me and surged into the room where they found her,” Mr Ngala said.
He said he followed them and heard one gunman ask the other if she is the one and when he was answered in the affirmative, he proceeded to “slap her very hard until she fell”.
“Ronald please, please! Ronald, please help,” Ms Romano said, according to Mr Ngala. “I tried to push away a man who was smothering her while holding her down for her hands to be tied behind her back, but someone hit me in the head with a club and I got dizzy.
“She told me to help myself and I ran for the man at the door with a club and pushed him away and escaped.”
He said two of the gunmen who were outside the room shot at onlookers.
Mr Ngala said the gunmen took Ms Romano across the Galana River. He said the gunmen looked and spoke like members of a local herding community known as Orma.
Many herding communities in Kenya that live near the border areas are armed to protect themselves against rivals, who may come across the border to steal their livestock.
In one of her latest postings on Twitter, Ms Romano said she was grateful to the kids she was working with for showing her how to live without material things.
“These children, these people have taught me to live with no material things but with love, Joy, gratitude, smiles, sincere eyes … and be happy in such simple way. Thank you Kenya, thank you Chakama. This has been the deepest experience of my Life,” she said.
Somali-based Islamic extremists have been blamed in the past for a spate of kidnappings of foreigners along Kenya’s coast. Kenya said it was prompted to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight al-Shabab militants after the kidnappings of four foreigners.