A woman talks to a child injured when Italian volunteer was seized in Chakama trading centre of Magarini, as he receives treatment at the Malindi district hospital in Malindi, Kenya on November 21 2018. Picture: REUTERS/Joseph Okanga
A woman talks to a child injured when Italian volunteer was seized in Chakama trading centre of Magarini, as he receives treatment at the Malindi district hospital in Malindi, Kenya on November 21 2018. Picture: REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

Gunmen kidnapped an Italian volunteer and shot and wounded a woman and four children in Kenya late on Tuesday, police and witnesses said after the first abduction of a foreigner there since raids blamed on Somali Islamist militants six years ago.

Men armed with AK-47 rifles seized the 23-year-old woman from a guesthouse in Chakama, a small town close to the southeast coast, officers and local residents said.

Police said they had not identified the attackers and no group immediately claimed responsibility.

The Italian charity the woman was working for, Africa Milele, posted a short message on its website saying: "There are no words to comment on what is happening. Silvia, we are all with you." The group says it helps orphaned children

Two witnesses told Reuters they heard the gunmen speaking Somali. "There were three attackers and they targeted the Italian lady," said Chad Joshua Kazungu.

The woman was seized after she came out of her room to find out what was going on, a third unnamed witness told Kenyan TV channel KTN News. "Their aim was to get money but they took off with her to the river," he said.

The attackers opened fire as they left, wounding a woman and four children, he added. A 10-year-old child was shot in the eye and a 12-year-old was hit in the thigh, police said.

On Wednesday a police helicopter circled over the green and yellow guesthouse where the volunteer had stayed.

Chakama in Kenya's Kilifi region is 60km  inland from the bustling coastal tourist resort of Malindi.

A series of abductions further north in 2011 and 2012 — and other attacks by al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militants from neighbouring Somalia — caused a slump in tourism numbers and revenue.

But local tour operators said they thought Tuesday's attack would have only a limited effect on the vital tourism industry. "The European market might have a small shake-up, but Malindi is 500km from Nairobi so I don't expect the safari industry to be affected," said Robert Katithi, sales director from Go Kenya Tours and Safaris.

Gunmen grabbed a wheelchair-bound French woman from her home on the northern island of Manda in 2011, weeks after pirates killed a British man and kidnapped his wife from another resort island. The French woman died while she was still be held, while the English woman was released after a ransom was paid.

At the time, the Kenyan government blamed al Shabaab, which has launched attacks inside Kenya in retaliation for Nairobi's military interventions in Somalia. The militants denied responsibility.

Armed men kidnapped four aid workers and killed a driver at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp near the border with Somalia in 2012.

The Italian foreign ministry said on Wednesday it was aware of the reports of the abduction and was looking into the situation.

Reuters