A FRENCH family of seven have been kidnapped by Islamist militants from Nigeria in northern Cameroon, president François Hollande said yesterday.
“They have been taken by a terrorist group that we know and that is in Nigeria,” Mr Hollande said.
Armed men on motorcycles intercepted the family – which includes three adults and four children (two boys and two girls) in their car early yesterday and forced them to drive to the nearby Nigerian border, a local official said. The four-wheel drive vehicle was later found abandoned.
Western governments are concerned Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists may link up with groups elsewhere in a region with poorly secured borders, especially al-Qaeda’s North African wing, Aqim (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) given the conflict in nearby Mali, where French-led forces are attempting to drive out Islamists who seized much of northern Mali after a coup in the south last year.
The seven French nationals were abducted in Dabanga about six miles from the Nigerian border near the Waza national park, where they had spent the night, an area popular with western holidaymakers.
The parents of the familyworked in a French-firm based in Cameroon, Mr Hollande said.
It was the first case of foreigners being seized in the mostly Muslim north of Cameroon, a former French colony.
“I see the hand of Boko Haram in that part of Cameroon. France is in Mali, and it will continue until its mission is completed,” Mr Hollande added.
France intervened in Mali last month when Islamist rebels, who had hijacked a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists to seize the north, pushed south towards the capital, Bamako.
Eight French citizens are already being held in West Africa’s Sahel region by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
Cameroon is largely secular with 70 per cent of the population Christian and about 24 per cent Muslim, mainly living in three northern regions.