French woman kidnapped by gunmen in Kenya
Kenyan coastguards are said to have surrounded a pirate boat where the elderly woman is being held hostage
Kenyan coastguards are said to have surrounded a pirate boat where kidnappers are holding an elderly French woman hostage after snatching her from her beach home.
A group of nine armed men attacked the property near Lamu in the middle of the night after arriving by speedboat. Staff and neighbours reported shots being fired and said the gunmen had burst into the house shouting: "Take us to Maman".
It is the second violent abduction of a foreigner in three weeks.
In a similar attack on 11 September, gunman attacked a British couple in their 50s on holiday north of Lamu.
The publishing executive David Tebbutt, from Bishop's Stortford, was killed and his wife Judith is being held hostage, possibly in Somalia.
The Kenyan tourism minister, Najib Balala, said the army, police and coastguards had located the boat where the French woman was being held and had surrounded it.
"Two coastguard vessels have encircled the boat where there are armed men and a woman," Balala told Reuters.
The local police chief, Adoli Aggrey, added: "We have deployed a contingent in the region. The army is already there and a police helicopter is in the air."
Bernard Valero, a foreign affairs spokesman in Paris, said the foreign ministry was in "constant contact" with the Kenyan authorities.
"Our ambassador and his team will do all they can to free our citizen who is known to our embassy and very well liked locally," added Valero.
Kenyan police said they were unable to establish whether the kidnappers were Somali pirates, a Shebab Islamic group of a local gang but added the "suspicious" boat they had surrounded was heading for Somalia.
The woman, who has not been named, is retired and had lived in Kenya for 15 years, returning only occasionally to France to visit her family.
She was well known in the area where she spent half the year at her home on the island of Manda just offshore from the village of Shela, in the Lamu archipelago near the Somali border, where numerous wealthy foreigners have second homes. Locals said she was elderly and used a wheelchair.
Jeremiah Kiptoon, who works on Manda, said he was woken by gunfire and shouting. "It was just before three in the morning. We were all sleeping and were woken with a jump because there were shots fired. The dogs were barking and people were shouting," he said.
"I ran to the place where it was all happening, but by the time I arrived the woman was already gone. Her house is close to the beach. Everyone was staying there shocked. The staff told us that nine men arrived in a speedboat and had burst into the house with guns shouting: 'Take us to Maman'."
Somali pirates have frequently seized crew from merchant ships in the coastal waters off the Horn of Africa, but in recent years have targeted private yachts, snatching westerners and demanding, often successfully, huge ransoms.
David Tebbutt, 58, a publishing director at Faber & Faber, and his wife Judith, 57, were staying at the Kiwayu Safari Village, a luxury holiday resort of 18 thatched cottages along a mile of sheltered beach, less than 30 miles from the border between Kenya and Somalia, when they were attacked. It was unclear whether the killing and kidnapping was carried out by Islamic extremists or pirates.
A Briton kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, the environmental researcher Murray Watson, is still missing and a French secret service agent has also been held in Somalia for more than two years.
The British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were snatched from their yacht in 2010 and held for 13 months. They were released after a ransom was paid.
The Lamu archipelago is often included in package holidays to Kenya, together with game-viewing safaris in some of the country's national parks.
Tourism is a key foreign currency earner for Kenya, east Africa's largest economy. The sector had only recently recovered from the violence that erupted after disputed 2007 polls scared tourists away.
Somalia, which lies in the easternmost part of Africa, has been without a central government controlling the entire country since it plunged into civil war in 1991.
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