8 arrested in kidnapping of US tourist in Uganda

US tourist’s dream trip turned nightmare ends in rescue
CNN, Facebook/Kimberly Endicott

Ugandan police have arrested eight people in connection with the kidnapping of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott and her Ugandan tour guide, Jean Paul Mirenge.

“These suspects have strong (links) to kidnapping tourists,” Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga told CNN on Tuesday of the eight Ugandan suspects. “This is something they had been planning on doing — to kidnap tourists with (the) intention (of getting a) ransom.”

It was not clear if the suspects were targeting Americans or foreigners in general.

They were arrested in the last 24 hours, Enanga said, with the help of a joint task force of the Ugandan security services and US military representatives.

“These arrests have given us the identity of the prime suspect we are looking for,” Enanga said, while confirming that they are directly related to the abduction of Endicott and Mirenge.

News of the arrests comes a day after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Uganda should “find the kidnappers” of Endicott and “bring them to justice openly and quickly!”

The two were abducted at gunpoint while on a game drive April 2 in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda.

Ugandan police said an armed gang had kidnapped Endicott and her guide, and made frequent demands for a ransom of $500,000 using their victims’ cell phones.

They were freed unharmed Sunday in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which borders the park. According to a government official, the kidnappers fled the scene when law enforcement officers and soldiers moved in.

Wild Frontiers, the tour company Endicott was with when she and Mirenge were kidnapped, said it was “extremely relieved” to confirm the two’s release, which involved a “negotiated handover, conducted between the Ugandan and US authorities.”

There have been conflicting reports over whether a ransom was paid.

A press release Tuesday from the Uganda Tourism Board, referring to a statement by the Uganda police force, said, “The victims were released as a result of the implicit threat of the use of force after the armed captors knew that they were being pursued by various security agencies.”

However, Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo acknowledged Tuesday to CNN that a ransom was paid. He didn’t say who paid it but noted that “a number of people were involved in rescuing Kimberly and her driver.”

“I can’t reveal everything that went on behind the scenes,” he said.

And on Sunday a source with knowledge of the exchange also told CNN that a ransom was paid to free Endicott and Mirenge, noting the handover was “quiet and peaceful.”

Endicott, who lives in Costa Mesa, California, arrived Monday in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Mike Rourke, the manager of Wild Frontiers Uganda, told CNN that Endicott was in the custody of personnel from the US Embassy.

Security has since been tightened in Queen Elizabeth National Park, according to Uganda Tourism Board CEO Lilly Ajarova, who wished Endicott and Mirenge a “happy reunion with their families.”

The park is open for visitation, and safaris “continue to go on smoothly,” Ajarova said in a statement, adding that “new measures as well as strict guidelines to avoid similar incidents have been put in place.”

The tourism board did not include details on how security will be enhanced.