American kidnapped in Uganda

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An American woman and her driver were kidnapped in Uganda’s most popular wildlife park by gunmen demanding a ransom of $500,000 (£380,112.5 ), police said.

Kimberley Sue Endecott (35) and Ugandan driver Jean Paul were on a game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park when four gunmen ambushed their vehicle, a police statement said.

Various illegal groups from Somali Islamists to Congolese-based rebels operate in Uganda from time to time, but identity of the kidnappers’ identity remains unknown.

An elderly couple at the kidnap scene were not harmed and raised the alarm.

“I suspect the kidnappers left them because they were elderly. They took all their possessions,” said Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo.

Califonia-based Endecott and the couple, whose relationship is unclear, entered Uganda on March 29 and flew to the park in the country’s south-west the following day.

The US embassy in Kampala had no extra information. “We take seriously threats against US citizens abroad. Security forces are responding to the incident,” it said in a statement.

The Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab has carried out attacks in Uganda in the past, but has not kidnapped for ransom there.

The park, Uganda’s most visited, is located about 400 km south-west of Kampala, near the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to many fragmented rebel groups.

Police said the kidnapping appeared financially motivated as the group quickly made a demand using Endecott’s mobile.

“Joint security teams cut off all exit areas between Uganda and the DRC in search of the victims,” the police statement added, warning the group may still be in the park.

In 1999, an American couple, four Britons and two New Zealanders were killed along with four Ugandan guides when ambushed by gunmen in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Survivors said the killers appeared to be Congo-based Hutu rebels.

Bwindi begins about 20 km south of Queen Elizabeth National Park, where tourists flock to see lions, hippos, crocodiles, chimpanzees and other African wildlife in an area of lakes, savannah, forests and swamps.