French agents face sharia trial

MOGADISHU: Two French agents kidnapped in Somalia will be tried soon under Islamic Sharia law for aiding "the enemy of Allah," an official of the hardline Shebab rebel group holding them said Saturday.

A Somali minister said the pair had been taken out of the capital and there was concern for their safety.

Separately, three foreign aid workers were also reported kidnapped overnight in a Kenyan town close to the Somali border.

The French agents "were caught assisting the apostate government and their spies," a senior Shebab officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said they will "soon be tried and punished under the Sharia law, they will face the justice court for spying and entering Somalia to assist the enemy of Allah.

"The decision about their fate will depend on the outcome of the Islamic court that will hear the charges against them," he added.

The two agents, in Somalia to train government forces, were snatched at gunpoint from their hotel in central Mogadishu early Tuesday.

Shebab is one of two allied Islamic insurgent groups battling to overthrow the transitional government which is supported by the international community.

Somalia's Social Affairs Minister Mohammed Ali Ibrahim told French news channel France 24 Saturday from Mogadishu that the two men had been taken out of the capital.

"As long as they were here, there were contacts," he said. "Intermediaries were in contact with Shebab and we knew they were in good health, but since this morning they have been taken away."

"We must be concerned about them and take strong action", he added.

He said France was putting pressure on Eritrea, which allegedly arms Shebab and other extremists in Somalia -- something Asmara denies -- and the Somali government was also sending envoys to Shebab.

"They trade in human beings," Ibrahim said. "Either they kill them or they demand an enormous ransom."

On Friday, Ibrahim said the "main reason for the kidnapping is that certain Shebab have associates imprisoned in France, pirates."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant said Friday that Paris did not believe the men were in imminent danger, but "tortuous bargaining... could take a while."

Fifteen Somali pirates are being held in France after being captured by the French navy in the Gulf of Aden. They are accused of taking part in the hijacking of two French yachts.

Earlier Saturday, a Somali government official said three foreign aid workers were kidnapped overnight in Mandera, a Kenyan town close to the Somali border.

"We are investigating the incident by tracing the kidnappers," Sheikh Adan Mohamed, a senior official in the neighbouring Somali town of Bulohawo, told AFP by telephone.

The nationalities of the three and the organisation for which they worked were not immediately known.

"There was a shootout at their office which was raided by gunmen and they shot a night guard in the head," a Kenyan security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Foreigners are regularly kidnapped in Somalia, which has been mired in civil war since 1991, and usually freed in return for a ransom. Journalists and aid workers are particularly targeted.

Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Geoffrey Brennan, snatched in Augustlast year, are still being held, as are four European employees of French aid organisation Action Against Hunger and their two Kenyan pilots, kidnapped in November.

Meanwhile Somali pirates on Saturday said they had released a German ship and its crew after being paid a ransom of 1.8 million dollars (1.3 million euros).

In Berlin the German foreign ministry identified the ship as the MV Victoria, flying the Antigua and Barbuda flag, which was captured on May 5 with 11 men on board.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Bucharest told the Newsim agency that all the men were Romanian and were in good health.

Pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships off Somalia last year, a rise of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre.

Naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to lawless waters off Somalia over the past year in a bid to curb attacks on one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.