By Larry Madowo, Bethlehem Feleke, Radina Gigova and Richard Roth, CNN
(CNN) — Somali national forces in the area where a UN helicopter was captured by al-Shabaab fighters are continuing to search for passengers, Daud Aweis, Somalia’s Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism told CNN on Thursday.
Aweis said they had been searching for the passengers since Wednesday night.
“They are doing a search in a very practical way because they have to engage the local people in the area to get information and gather intelligence to find where they are and so they can be quickly rescued,” he said, adding that the Somali government was still waiting for an update on the search.
Eight people were on board the helicopter when it was captured by al-Shabaab fighters in the Galmugud region, including foreigners and one Somali citizen, Aweis said. He was not able to confirm if anyone had died or escaped, saying that Somali forces were searching for all eight people.
The UN emergency assistance helicopter made an emergency landing likely due to a mechanical issue in Galmudug, which is controlled buy the al-Qaeda affiliated terror group, according to the state-run Somali National News Agency (SONNA).
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) said the helicopter “was conducting an air medical evacuation” and that more information would be released when it becomes available.
The operator of the UN-contracted helicopter told CNN it was “aware” of the incident but declined to provide more details.
The helicopter was staffed by a crew from Iqarus, an organization that provides medical care in conflict situations around the world.
“We are working closely with our counterparts in Somalia and response efforts are underway. We would not wish to undermine any of the efforts to resolve this situation by commenting further at this time,” the Dubai-headquartered firm told CNN in a statement.
The incident comes weeks after Maalim Ayman, a senior leader of the al-Shabaab militant group operating in Somalia and Kenya, was killed on December 17 by a joint military operation between the Somali and US forces.
Aweis announced the death of Hyman on Friday.
“Ayman was accountable for planning multiple lethal terrorist attacks in Somalia and nearby countries,” Aweis said in a statement on social media at the time.
Ayman is responsible for a terrorist attack on US and Kenyan personnel at Kenya’s Manda Bay Airfield on January 5, 2020, US officials say.
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