PARIS — A French family of seven — including four children — was kidnapped today in northern Cameroon, and officials suggested that the Islamic extremist sect Boko Haram was behind it.
Details of the kidnapping were not immediately clear. However, President Francois Hollande, speaking during a visit to Greece, noted that France is engaged in a military campaign in Mali to rout out jihadists who had taken control of the north. Terrorists, he said, “are not just in Mali.”
Hollande warned French citizens in the region to avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations.
A total of 15 French citizens are currently being held in western Africa — one other in Nigeria and seven thought to be in northern Mali.
A French official close to the embassy in Cameroon said the family was believed to have been taken from northern Cameroon to Nigeria, where on Monday a little-known extremist group called Ansaru claimed responsibility for a separate abduction of seven foreigners.
Boko Haram — which means “Western education is sacrilege” — has launched a guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. It is blamed for at least 792 killings last year alone, according to an AP count. It is known to have ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, an Algerian-based group that opened a front in Mali.
“If everything is confirmed, this signifies that the fight against terrorist groups is a necessity,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris. “There is a battle to be led by the international community against terrorist groups and narco-terrorists,” a reference to the trafficking in drugs, cigarettes and other commodities that has flourished in northern Mali under the extremists.
The latest kidnappings have added to fears of instability and danger toward Westerners. Before today, there were eight French citizens being held in the region, including one who was taken in Nigeria.
An analysis published Monday by Stratfor, a U.S.-based private global intelligence firm, warned that there likely will be more attacks by Ansaru targeting Westerners and Western interests in Nigeria, as well as neighboring nations.