Ugandan police have arrested eight people in connection with the kidnapping of Costa Mesa 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 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 suspected kidnappers were targeting Americans or just foreigners in general.
The suspects were arrested in the last 24 hours, Enanga said Tuesday morning, with the help of a joint task force consisting of the Ugandan security services and representatives from the U.S. military.
“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 kidnap of Endicott and Mirenge.
The news comes a day after President Trump tweeted that Uganda should “find the kidnappers” of Endicott and “bring them to justice openly and quickly!”
Both victims were abducted at gunpoint while on a game drive on April 2 in Queen Elizabeth National Park, in southwest Uganda.
Ugandan police said an armed gang had kidnapped Endicott, 56, and her guide, and made frequent demands for a ransom of $500,000 using their victims’ cell phones.
They were freed unharmed on 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 their release, which involved a “negotiated handover, conducted between the Ugandan and U.S. authorities.”
There have, however, been conflicting reports over whether a ransom was paid. Police had said they would not offer the money. But a source with knowledge of the exchange told CNN on Sunday that a ransom was given. The handover was “quiet and peaceful,” the source said.
Endicott arrived in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on Monday. Mike Rourke, the manager of Wild Frontiers Uganda, told CNN that Endicott was in the custody of personnel from the U.S. Embassy.
Endicott, who has had an aesthetician’s license since 1998, runs a skin care business in Costa Mesa. A review from a customer posted on the business’ website highlighted Endicott’s professional talent and described her as a “wonderful and caring person.”