One dead and several captured in attack on UN helicopter in Galguduud region in central Somalia, official says

The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab seized the crew of a U.N. helicopter that made an emergency landing Wednesday in Somalia, said two people based in Mogadishu who work with international organizations.

Al-Shabaab set the helicopter on fire and seized most of the crew members after the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in the central Galguduud region, a Western official told The Washington Post.


A Mogadishu-based official said four Europeans and five Africans were onboard. One crew member was reportedly killed, two were unaccounted for and may have escaped, and the rest were taken captive, he said. All four officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

UN Helicopter And Passengers Captured By Al-Shabaab
Al-Shabaab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia [File: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Photo]

A spokeswoman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia said a statement would be issued. An internal U.N. memo said the helicopter “was struck by an object on the main rotor blade, and the flight landed safely with precaution.” It didn’t say what the object was.

The United Nations provides logistical and medical support to the 17,500-strong African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. An official with the force who also spoke on the condition of anonymity said no peacekeeping troops were on the helicopter.

Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but it is the main hostile force in the area.

The group has frequently seized foreign hostages, including medical workers, and kept them in captivity for years. In 2018, it kidnapped a German nurse working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mogadishu, the capital. She has never recovered.

Al-Shabaab, or “The Youth,” was the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which took control of Mogadishu in 2006 after years of anarchy. It was pushed from power by an Ethiopian military invasion with U.S. backing, but it is still able to carry out frequent assassinations and bombings and collect about $15 million per month in taxes through threatening businesspeople.

UN Helicopter And Passengers Captured By Al-Shabaab
U.N. helicopters at the Mogadishu airport in 2022, after a mission to evacuate wounded Somali soldiers. Malin Fezehai)

The group also operates Islamic courts — often considered to be less corrupt than government courts — and citizens sometimes travel out of government areas to lodge cases there.

Somali government forces, supported by the A.U. peacekeeping force and clan militias, have clawed back territory from al-Shabaab in recent years, but the insurgent group still has control over swaths of the country.

Galguduud has been a key battleground, where increasingly strong clan militias opposed to al-Shabaab’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law have repeatedly clashed with the insurgency.

Somali commandos travel through Masjid Ali Guduud, an area the military had recently retaken from al-Shabaab control, on November 13, 2022.

Al-Shabaab rejects Somalia’s traditional Sufi form of Islam and wants to institute the much harsher Wahabbi rule, originating in Saudi Arabia. They frequently attack local shrines as un-Islamic, fueling anger among some of the clans opposing them.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are also present in the Horn of Africa nation, where they train the elite Somali special forces and carry out airstrikes and missions. A Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said no American citizens were onboard the helicopter Wednesday.

Somalia has been torn apart by civil war since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre and then turned on each other.

Wednesday’s capture of the helicopter and its crew is likely to evoke memories of the capture of a U.S. military crew when their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down over Mogadishu in 1993.

This is a developing story.