updated 7/14/2009 11:06:34 AM ET 2009-07-14T15:06:34

Gunmen stormed into a hotel in the Somali capital on Tuesday and kidnapped two French security advisers on a mission to train Somali forces, officials said.

The gunmen knocked on the door where the men were staying at the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu and abducted them when the men opened the door, said hotel manager Mohamed Hassan Gafaa.

"They must have had prior knowledge" of where the men were staying, Gafaa told The Associated Press.

About 10 gunmen had arrived at the Sahafi in a small car and a pickup truck mounted with machine guns and disarmed the hotel guards, said Abdi Mohamed Ahmed, who witnessed the abduction.

"The gunmen then sped away with their hostages," he said. Police later said they found one of the kidnappers' cars.

The French Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the men were security consultants.

"Two French advisers on an official mission of assistance to the Somali government were kidnapped this morning in Mogadishu by armed men," the ministry said. "They were bringing aid concerning security" to the government.

A senior Somali government official said they were in Somalia to train government soldiers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Power vacuum
Foreigners rarely go to Mogadishu, which is among the most dangerous cities in the world, and when they do they travel only in convoys with armed guards. Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. The men seized Tuesday had registered at the Sahafi — which means journalist in the Arabic and Somali languages — as French reporters, said Gafaa. He did not give the men's names.

Many fear the power vacuum in Somalia will provide a haven for terrorists, as the military and police force are weak and in disarray. But direct attempts by outsiders to intervene in Somalia have been disastrous in the past.

The U.S. government — haunted by a deadly 1993 U.S. military assault into the Somali capital chronicled in "Black Hawk Down" — is carefully working to lower the growing terrorist threat without sending in American troops. The Obama administration recently moved to increase aid to Somalia by pouring resources into the weak government.

Various Islamist groups have been fighting the U.N.-backed government since being chased from power 2 1/2 years ago. The situation is complicated by the continual splintering and reforming of alliances and a tangled web of clan loyalties.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for 18 years. Mogadishu sees near daily battles between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.

The lawlessness has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast, making the waterway one of the most dangerous in the world.

More on Somalia

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