20 February 2013

Nigeria: Boko Haram Kidnaps French Children in Cameroun

Photo: Vanguard
Nigerian Gunmen (file photo)

France and her nationals have suddenly become number one enemies of the Islamic insurgents called Boko Haram and its allied militia group, Ansaru. Tuesday, the Islamic sect struck in neighbouring Cameroun, kidnapping seven French nationals, four of whom are children.

Six foreigners have also been kidnapped by pirates when they boarded a ship two days ago off Nigeria's coast.

The seven hostages kidnapped by Boko Haram were taken from Cameroun's far north close to the Waza National Park and Lake Chad, both attractions for tourists on adventure holidays. The semi-arid area lies alongside the border with Nigeria, and Islamist strongholds in towns there, including Maiduguri, are less than 100 miles to the west. Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, has been the hotbed of recent attacks launched by the Boko Haram group.

The re-launched offensive by the Islamic sect, especially against France and its people is not unconnected with France's deployment of troops in Mali, where the northern part of the country had been seized by Islamic rebels.

There is an evident surge of attacks on French interests across West Africa.

Francois Hollande, the French president, blamed Boko Haram for Tuesday's kidnapping.

"They have been taken by a terrorist group that we know and that is in Nigeria," Hollande told reporters during a visit to Greece.

He added: "I see the hand of Boko Haram in that part of Cameroun."

Radio France International had earlier reported the kidnapping, saying that the seven people were taken by armed men on motorbikes and were being taken towards Nigeria.

Western governments have expressed concern that Boko Haram may link up with groups elsewhere in the region, particularly al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM given the conflict in nearby Mali.

The seven tourists were abducted at around 7 a.m. in a village about 10 km from the Nigerian border.

Eight French citizens are already being held in West Africa's Sahel region by al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

Cameroun's Information Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said his government and security services were investigating the reports but would not immediately confirm details.

The French press reported that four of the victims were children and three adults. They are all of the same family.

The French President said that his intelligence services said they suspected the victims were being taken towards northern Nigeria, or had already been smuggled across the border.

Last Friday, seven foreign nationals were also kidnapped in Jama'are in Bauchi State. They were construction workers working at a Setraco construction yard when they were kidnapped by a splinter group called Ansaru, after their guard was shot dead.

A French engineer was kidnapped close to Katsina, in the North-west zone of Nigeria in December. Eight other French nationals, mostly employees with its uranium miner Areva, have been held hostage in the region since 2010.

The kidnapped workers are Britons, Italians, Greek and Lebanese.

The French president is facing increasing domestic pressure to justify ordering the operation in Mali, where 4,000 French troops helped stall an Islamist surge south towards the capital last month.

"France is in Mali, and it will continue until its mission is completed," Hollande had insisted.

Meanwhile, the presidency has debunked a report by a national daily (not THISDAY), that the Federal Government has proposed to offer amnesty to Boko Haram members if they renounce violence.

A source in the presidency, who debunked the story as inaccurate, explained that what transpired at an interactive session held Monday at the National Defence College, Abuja, was that the National Coordinator of Counter-Terrorism Centre, Gen. Sarkin-Yaki Bello (rtd), told US military personnel that government would only listen to the group if it comes up with a credible leadership and renounces violence.

The six foreign sailors were kidnapped by the pirates who boarded a ship two days ago off Nigeria's coast in the latest in a string of attacks off Africa's biggest energy producer, security sources said Tuesday.

A Russian, three Ukrainian and two Indian sailors were taken when the Armada Tuah was attacked around 40 miles off the coast of oil-producing Bayelsa State, three security sources told Reuters. There were no details on what type of ship it was or where it was flagged.

"If confirmed, the attack would be the third offshore kidnapping in the area in 10 days, following the attacks on Esther C and Walvis 7 on February 7 and February 10 respectively," Maritime risk experts AKE said in a security report.

Piracy watchdog, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), also confirmed the ship was attacked. The Nigerian navy did not respond to requests for comment.

Five Indian sailors who were kidnapped in a pirate attack around 40 miles off the Niger Delta coast in December were released last month. There were no details on how they were freed but in the past ransoms have been paid.

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