UN helicopter captured by terror group in Somalia after emergency landing

Andy Vermaut / Twitter

A United Nations (UN) helicopter has been captured by terror group Al-Shabaab after it was forced to make an emergency landing in the central Galguduud area in Somalia on January 10, 2023.

The helicopter, which was conducting a medical evacuation mission, took off from Beledweyne city in central Somalia. 

According to a UN memo seen by Al Jazeera, the helicopter encountered a technical glitch and was forced to make an emergency landing close to Gadoon village in the Galgaduud region, an area controlled by the Sunni Islamist militant group.

The memo said 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.

“Two Somali men and several foreigners were onboard. It was also carrying medical supplies and it was supposed to transport injured soldiers from the Galgaduud region,” Major Hassan Ali told Reuters.

One person from the UN helicopter had reportedly been shot dead while trying to escape, while one is unaccounted for.

A Mogadishu-based official told the Washington Post that four Europeans and five Africans were aboard the helicopter.

The United Nations confirmed the incident, stating that it is “concerned” about the safety of persons aboard the helicopter and that “response efforts” are underway.  

“I can confirm that there was an incident involving a UN-contracted helicopter that took place today in Galmudug in Somalia,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said during a media briefing and in a statement.

“Response efforts are underway, but I think you will all understand for the sake of the safety of all those involved we are not going to say anymore at this point,” he said, adding that “our primary concern is for their safety so we will leave it at that for now.”

Who is Al-Shabaab?

The militant group Al-Shabaab, also known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, was founded in 2006. While the group operates independently, it is known to have ties with Al Qaeda.

In December 2023, Maalim Ayman, a key leader of the group, was killed in an airstrike operation carried out by the Somali national army and US forces. 

Ayman is known to have been responsible for the 2020 attack on Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, a facility used by Somali and US troops. In January 2023, the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice offered a reward of up to $10 million for information and leads on Ayman.

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