A United Nations helicopter carrying nine passengers was captured in Somalia on Wednesday by the terrorist group Al Shabab after making an emergency landing in an area controlled by the group, two Somali officials said.
Six of the passengers were captured, while two escaped and one was killed, according to the two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. There were foreigners among the passengers, one of the officials said, though their nationalities were not known.
The helicopter, which was attached to the United Nations Support Office in Somalia, landed in the Galgaduud region in central Somalia on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear why the helicopter had to land. The fates of the two passengers who fled were still unknown, one of the officials said.
The U.N. Support Office in Somalia did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The office provides logistical support to the over 19,000-member peacekeeping forces with the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. That support includes ferrying food and fuel, providing land and air transportation as well as casualty evacuations.
Al Shabab, which means “The Youth” in Arabic, has wreaked havoc across Somalia for almost a decade and half, promising to topple the U.N.-backed federal government and to establish an Islamic state. The group commands between 7,000 and 12,000 fighters and makes about $120 million annually through extortion and taxation, according to U.S. and Somali officials.
Since coming to power in 2022, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has vowed to eliminate the group both militarily and financially. He poured troops into areas that include south-central Somalia, where the helicopter landed, and with the help of American drones in the air and local clan militias on the ground, liberated dozens of small towns and villages, according to Somali officials and security officers.
But the Shabab have remained belligerent in the face of this offensive, carrying out multiple attacks against security forces and civilians across the country.