Sole Female Cabinet Minister in Somalia Kidnapped By Rebel Group

Somali insurgents kidnapped the country’s new women and family affairs minister Thursday while she was en route to her first cabinet meeting, AFP reported.

Asha Osman Aqiil, the only woman in the country's 18-member government, was reportedly taken by Shebab fighters, an Islamist rebel group. The kidnapping occurred 19 miles north of Mogadishu in a town called Balad.

"It is unfortunate that she is in the hands of the wrong people and we are praying that she is freed," a lawmaker told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A relative who did not want to be identified told Reuters that Aqiil is being interrogated in Balad by al Shebab.

"She told them she is aware of her nomination and had not contacted the government at all and had not accepted the vacancy," the relative said, according to Reuters.

Channel News Asia reported that Somalia’s south remains in the grip of the Shebab fighters who adhere to Islamic laws that prohibit women from holding elected office.

"We condemn the kidnapping of the women's affairs minister by the Shebab," Sahra Maalin, women rights activist, said, according to the station. "Somali women will do what it takes to secure her freedom."

John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the kidnapping is likely a grasp at attention from the Shebab.

“The Shebab is trying to show how powerless the government in Mogadishu is, and the fact that it’s a woman minister, perhaps, shows an attempt to make the Western press.”'s Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.