Abducted Briton feared in Somalia as Kenya expands search

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An air, land and sea search for a British woman abducted from a luxury Kenyan beach lodge has yielded no leads, raising fears she has been taken to neighbouring Somalia, police said Tuesday.

"We are still going on with the search. We do not yet know where she is. We have put out appeals to the public but nothing has been forthcoming. We have not succeeded," Aggrey Adoli, the police chief for Coast Province, said.

"Our teams are still out there, we are gathering all the intelligence on the ground. I can only say we have not found her at all."

The woman, believed to be in her mid-fifties, was abducted after unknown assailants killed her husband in the early hours of Sunday, soon after arriving at the Kiunga marine reserve on the Lamu archipelago off Kenya's northern coast.

Adoli declined to say whether the woman was thought to be in neighbouring Somalia but a senior police officer who asked not to be named told AFP: "We are speaking with the Somali government ... We strongly believe she was abducted by foreign forces."

The same officer said: "Elders on the other side in Somalia will be involved; they will try to talk to the suspected abductors so that they can confirm if they are holding her."

Kenyan police named the couple as David and Judith Tebbutt, believed to be in their mid-fifties, from the town of Bishop's Stortford in southeast England.

Kiwayu Safari Village, where the couple were the only guests, is just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Somali border.

US forces have in recent years carried out air raids on the Kenya-Somalia border area targeting regional Al-Qaeda figures.

On Tuesday search helicopters flew regular flights from Lamu airport as search efforts continued.

The attack has caused fear on the main Lamu island that it will badly damage tourism on which it so heavily depends.

"It is not just bad for the hotels, but also for the local people," said Abdullah Sultan, chairman of the tour guide association of Shela, a village and tourist beach on Lamu popular with the world's rich and famous.

Sultan estimated that some "90 percent of the people live by tourism" on Lamu.

"Security in Shela and Lamu town is very good, hotel owners make sure people are safe," Sultan added, stressing that "Kiwayu is very far from Lamu."

"We just want to assure people that Lamu is still safe, and we are still welcoming people," said Muhidin Athman, a hotel owner on Lamu, who said that the island was about two hours by speedboat from Kiwayu.

"We have the security, what happened was very far away from Lamu island," Athman added.

The Lamu island chain and the surrounding area is one of Kenya's top luxury holiday destinations and favoured by celebrities, despite being close to the border with war-torn Somalia.

Most of southern Somalia is controlled by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab, which is waging an insurgency against Somalia's fragile, Western-backed government.

Shebab officials in southern Somalia declined to comment on the kidnap.

© 2011 AFP

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