Kenya, Fearing for Hostages, Won't Order Nationals Out of Iraq

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Kenya's government has reacted with concern and surprise over the kidnapping of three Kenyan civilians in Iraq, and said it hoped to secure their release through dialogue.

Foreign ministry officials here said the kidnappers should release the three unconditionally, stressing that Kenya does not have any interests in Iraq.

"These are innocent Kenyans who have been trying to earn a living," said Foreign Affairs deputy minister Moses Wetangula. "We have never taken sides in the Iraq conflict."

Ibrahim Khamis Idd, 48, Faiz Khamis Salim and Jalal Mohamed Awadh, both 39, are among seven foreigners reported kidnapped on Tuesday by terrorists calling themselves members of "The Holders of the Black Banners." The three, all married, are residents of the coastal city of Mombasa.

The group is also holding three Indians and an Egyptian, and has threatened to behead one hostage every three days unless the three governments withdraw all their nationals from Iraq, and the Kuwaiti-based company employing them, pulls out too.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Makwere said Kenya would not discourage its citizens from working for companies with a presence in Iraq. Around 100 nationals were working in neighboring Kuwait, and could only leave of their own free will, he said.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told that authorities were trying to establish the circumstances under which the men were kidnapped.

"We neither have combatants nor companies working in Iraq."

Mutua said the government was in touch with the company employing the Kenyans, which he identified as Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport.

Kenya was also working through its embassy in Jordan and with the help of friendly nations in the Middle East to resolve the crisis.

Reiterating Kenya's stance on sending troops abroad, Mutua said the country contributes only to peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the United Nations,

Mrs. Umis Mohammed Omollo, a cousin of Ibrahim Khamis Idd, appealed to the kidnappers to release her relative and the other hostages.

"They were not involved in the war," she said Thursday. "They only left Kuwait so that they can educate and feed their children. Please do not leave us with orphans."

When the U.S. was campaigning for international support for the war against Iraq in early 2003, Kenya - like most African nations - said it remained impartial. It would only contribute troops if the United Nations sanctioned an attack against Baghdad.

A number of African countries, including Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, Rwanda and Uganda, were more supportive of the U.S., although no African countries have contributed forces to the U.S.-led multinational coalition helping to secure and rebuild Iraq.

Kenya, which has relatively strong diplomatic relations with the U.S., has been targeted by terrorists twice in the recent past.

The U.S. embassies in Nairobi and the capital of neighboring Tanzania, Dar-es-Salaam, were bombed in an almost simultaneous August 1998 attack carried out by al Qaeda. More than 250 people, including 12 Americans, were killed, and some 5,000 were hurt.

In 2002, terrorists bombed an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 12 Kenyans and three Israelis. An attempt on the same day to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet after takeoff from Kenya failed.

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