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Somalia begins ‘efforts to rescue’ UN helicopter crew held by al-Shabab

Somalia begins ‘efforts to rescue’ UN helicopter crew held by al-Shabab
Nepalese villagers look at the remains of a United Nations helicopter that crashed   -  
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Hem Gurung/AP


A United Nations (UN) helicopter crash-landed in an area under the control of armed Islamists in Somalia, following an impact on its main rotor blade, according to a UN source.

Al-Shabab fighters reportedly seized the helicopter, and unconfirmed reports suggest that one passenger may have been shot dead, with six others currently held captive by the militants. Two individuals are said to have escaped the incident.

The helicopter, on a medical mission, made an emergency landing near a village, as confirmed by the UN mission in Somalia, which acknowledged an "aviation incident" involving a UN-contracted helicopter.

According to the UN source, among the nine individuals on board, one was Somali, while the others hailed from various African and European countries. The foreign nationals include the reported fatality and the two who managed to escape, with their current status unknown. All nine individuals, including the four-member crew, were third-party contractors and not UN staff, and some were identified as medical personnel.

The helicopter was en route to Wisil town, near the frontlines of a government offensive against al-Shabab when it crash-landed after being struck by an unspecified object, the source added. Major Hassan Ali, a Somali military official, revealed that the aircraft was carrying medical supplies and intended to transport injured soldiers from the Galgudud region.

Al-Shabab, affiliated with al-Qaeda, controls significant portions of southern and central Somalia and has been engaged in a brutal insurgency for nearly two decades. 

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) clarified that the aircraft involved was not a WFP or UN Humanitarian Air Service craft, and no WFP personnel were on board. As a precautionary measure, WFP flights in the area have been temporarily suspended.

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