Tourists walk along the beach at Kiwayu Safari Village resort, north of Lamu
Tourists walk along the beach at Kiwayu Safari Village resort, north of Lamu Reuters

A British woman tourist is believed to have been kidnapped by Islamic militants in Kenya, according to government officials in neighboring Somalia.

Gunmen from the Islamic insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda and controls much of southern Somalia, reportedly seized Judith Tebbutt, 56, at Kiwayu, a remote resort area north-east of Lamu island -- very close to the Somalian border.

Her husband, David Tebbutt, 58, was killed during the attack.

Hussein Arab Issa, the defense minister of Somalia, told media that Mrs. Tebbutt was likely taken across the border into Somalia by al-Shabab. Other unconfirmed reports indicate she is being held in Kismayo, a port city in southern Somalia, which is controlled by al-Shabab.

Meanwhile, Kenyan military helicopters, in tandem with British police officials, are combing the northern coast. The Somali government has said it will do everything in its power to secure Mrs. Tebbutt’s release.

However, if she is indeed in the al-Shabab-controlled region, the United Nations-backed government in Mogadishu will need help for foreign countries to negotiate her release.

The motivations of the captors are also unclear – they may have political reasons for the kidnapping of the westerner, or they may simply demand money through a ransom. As such, she may not have been detained by al-Shabab, who rarely kidnap foreigners far outside the regions of Somalia they control.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: We are doing everything we possibly can on this desperately tragic case.

The UK Foreign Office has advised its citizens to avoid all but essential travel to within 18 miles of Kenya's border with Somalia.