Asha Osman Aqiil, Somalia’s new minister for women and family affairs, was abducted by Islamist rebels late Wednesday night, the day after her appointment was announced. The abduction occurred while Aqiil was on her way to her first cabinet meeting. She was travelling in an area controlled by al Shabaab militants. Aqiil is the only woman in the new 18 member government.
Al Shabaab has a history of targeting government ministers. Last month, al Shabaab was accused of killing Interior Minister Abdi Shakur Sheikh Hassan in a suicide bomb attack. Sahra Maalin, a women’s rights activist described Aqiil’s abduction as a “collective punishment against Somali women and all those who believe in equality.”
Since the overthrow of Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has not had an effective central government. Additionally, earlier in the week, the UN declared that there is famine in two of Somalia’s regions under rebel control. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, thousands have died in Somalia over the past months because of the severe drought and famine. The abduction of Asha Osman Aqiil has heightened famine aid groups’ security fears as they plan to make food deliveries.