Fighters with al-Qaida’s East Africa affiliate al-Shabab attacked a United Nations helicopter that made an emergency landing Wednesday in territory controlled by the extremists in Somalia, killing one passenger and abducting five others, officials said.

The minister of internal security of Galmudug state in central Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Aden Gaboobe, told The Associated Press by phone that the helicopter made the landing due to engine failure in Xindheere village. He said six foreigners and one Somali national were on board and one was shot dead while trying to escape. One was missing.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed that “there was an incident involving a U.N.-contracted helicopter that took place today in Galmudug.” He said that for the safety of those on board he would not provide other details except to say that “response efforts are under way. … We’re fully engaged on the issue and trying to resolve it.”


The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately available.

The extremists then burnt the helicopter after confiscating what they thought was important, the Galmudug minister said.

Al-Shabab did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.

An aviation official said medical professionals and soldiers were on board the helicopter that had been headed to Wisil town for a medical evacuation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

Al-Shabab intensified attacks on Somali military bases in recent months after it lost control of some territory in rural areas to a military offensive that followed the Somali president’s call for “total war” on the fighters.

Al-Shabab still controls parts of southern and central Somalia and continues to carry out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and other areas while extorting millions of dollars a year from residents and businesses in its quest to impose an Islamic state.

The widespread insecurity means the U.N. and other humanitarian entities travel around Somalia by air. The U.N. mission in the Horn of Africa nation offers humanitarian assistance in a country periodically hit by deadly drought and with one of the world’s least developed health systems.

The U.N. mission also supports a 19,000-strong multinational African Union peacekeeping force that has begun a phased withdrawal from the country with the aim of handing over security responsibilities in the coming months to Somali forces, who have been described by some experts as not ready for the challenge.

Last month, Somalia’s government welcomed the U.N. Security Council’s vote to lift the arms embargo imposed on the country more than three decades ago, saying it would help in the modernization of Somali forces.

Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke to Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Wednesday morning at his request, but the main aim wasn’t the helicopter incident. It was about the agreement signed Jan. 1 between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland to give landlocked Ethiopia access to part of its coast.

Somalia’s president has rejected the agreement, calling it a violation of international law.

“The secretary-general recalled that the Security Council has repeatedly affirmed the respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Somalia,” Dujarric said, and he hopes “all parties will engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue. and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate the situation.”