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2 French nationals kidnapped

GUNMEN stormed into a hotel in the Somali capital yesterday and kidnapped two French security advisers on a mission to train Somali forces, officials said.

The gunmen went from room to room at the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu looking for the French men, said hotel manager Mohamed Hassan Gafaa. About 10 gunmen had arrived at the Sahafi Hotel in a small car and a pickup truck mounted with machine guns and disarmed the hotel guards, said Abdi Mohamed Ahmed, who witnessed the abduction.

"The gunmen then sped away with their hostages," Ahmed said. Police later said they found one of the kidnappers' cars.

The French Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the men were security consultants.

"Two French advisers on an official mission of assistance to the Somali government were kidnapped this morning in Mogadishu by armed men," the ministry said yesterday. "They were bringing aid concerning security" to the government.

Foreigners rarely go to Mogadishu, and when they do they travel only in convoys with armed guards. Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. The men seized yesterday had registered at the Sahafi as French reporters, said Gafaa. He did not give the men's names.

Many fear the power vacuum in Somalia will provide a haven for terrorists, as the military and police force are weak and in disarray. But direct attempts by outsiders to intervene in Somalia have been disastrous in the past.

The US administration - haunted by a deadly 1993 US military assault into the Somali capital chronicled in "Black Hawk Down" - is carefully working to lower the terrorist threat without sending in American troops. The Obama administration increased aid to Somalia by pouring resources into the weak government.

Various Islamist groups have been fighting the UN-backed government since being chased from power 2 1/2 years ago.

The situation is complicated by the continual splintering and reforming of alliances and a tangled web of clan loyalties.

The Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for 18 years. Mogadishu sees near daily battles between government and insurgent forces.


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