A disabled Frenchwoman who was snatched by gunmen from her beachfront home at a Kenyan resort and taken to neighbouring Somalia has died in the hands of her captors, France says.
The foreign ministry said the circumstances of 66-year-old Marie Dedieu’s death were not known, but her failing health had probably been a factor.
“This was an act of unqualified barbarism, violence and brutality,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters.
“We condemn this in the strongest possible terms. We did everything possible to try to obtain her release, we tried to send medication by numerous different channels and apparently these savages could not care less.”
The announcement of her death came as Kenyan jets pounded the positions in Somalia of al-Qaeda linked Shebab militants, whom Nairobi blames for a spate of abductions of foreigners.
Kenyan forces launched an unprecedented incursion, which it says has already killed dozens of Shebab fighters, into Somalia this week with the blessing of the Western-backed government in Mogadishu.
“The contacts through which the French government was seeking to obtain the release of Marie Dedieu, held in Somalia since October 1, have announced her death,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
“All the information in our possession brings us to conclude that it was the refusal of her kidnappers to treat our compatriot, whose health was very precarious, and to quickly free her that was the cause of her death,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
A gang of 10 armed men seized Dedieu from Manda Island in Kenya’s Lamu archipelago earlier this month and fled by sea to Somalia, fighting off an attempt by Kenya’s navy to stop them.
There had been serious concern over the health of Dedieu, who was wheelchair-bound after an accident several years ago, recovering from cancer and required medication every few hours.
“Without medication she would not have had more than two or three days to live. Her cancer was in a terminal phase,” said a diplomatic source in Paris.
The foreign ministry said it had informed Dedieu’s family of her death and had demanded the unconditional return of her remains.
“The French government expresses its profound shock, great sadness and solidarity with the family and loved ones of Marie Dedieu,” it said.
“It also expresses its indignation at the cruelty and complete absence of humanity shown by our compatriot’s abductors, whom we want to see identified and brought to justice.”
Kenyan officials said they suspected Somali Islamist Shebab insurgents had carried out the abduction, but the militants denied the charge.
Dedieu had lived for 15 years in the Lamu archipelago, off Kenya’s northern coast, in a traditional Swahili-style house with a thatched roof a few metres from the sea.
She was a well-loved local figure and residents were in shock at the news of her death.
“Oh my God, don’t tell me,” Lamu Deputy Mayor Azhar Ali said on hearing the news. “May God keep her soul and protect her.”
“I am so very, very sad about that,” said Mary Jo Van Aardt, who runs a hotel in the area. “One just feels so helpless.”
Dedieu’s kidnapping was the second in the area in less than a month and dealt a blow to Kenya’s tourist trade after European governments warned travellers to avoid the Kenyan coastline near Somalia.
France reiterated that warning on Wednesday, with Valero saying: “Anyone heading to the northern border area and the east of Kenya… is putting their life and liberty at risk.”
A British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, was seized to the north of Lamu and taken to Somalia on September 11 by an armed gang who killed her husband. She is believed to have been sold to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.
A third incident, the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers at the Dadaab refugee camp, took place last Thursday and apparently prompted the Kenyan incursion into Somalia.
Kenyan ground forces were operating at least 100 kilometres inside Somalia on Wednesday and preparing to push forward to seize the Shebab-controlled city of Afmadow.
It is unclear how long Kenyan troops plan to stay in Somalia but Nairobi has been under growing pressure to take action to restore confidence that it could safely host tourists and one of the world’s largest aid communities.