By Tansa Musa and Ibrahim Mshelizza
Thu Feb 21, 2013
Nigerian security forces surrounded the
kidnappers of a French family in northeast Borno state on Thursday in an operation to rescue the hostages, a Nigerian military source said. French, Nigerian and Cameroonian officials earlier denied French media reports that the family, who were seized in Cameroon and taken over the border,
had been freed.
The Nigerian military located the
hostages and kidnappers between Dikwa and Ngala in the far northeast, the military source in Borno said, asking not to be identified. Dikwa is less than 80 km (50 miles) from the border with Cameroon where the three adults and four children were taken hostage on Tuesday.
A senior Cameroonian military official
declined to comment saying the matter
was too sensitive. Citing a Cameroon army officer, French media reported earlier on Thursday that the hostages had been found alive in a house in northern Nigeria. “This is a crazy rumor that we cannot confirm. We do not know where is it coming from,” Cameroon Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told Reuters by telephone from the capital Yaounde. “What is certain is that the French tourists who were abducted are no longer on our territory. However, we are in touch with the Government of Nigeria to intensify measures to continue the search for them along our common border,” he said.
French gendarmes backed by special
forces arrived in northern Cameroon on
Wednesday to help locate the family, a
local governor and French defense
ministry official said. Nigerian military spokesman Sagir Musa earlier also said the report on France’s BFM television of the hostages being released was “not true,” while Didier Le Bret, the head of the French foreign ministry’s crisis center, said the information was “baseless.”
The abduction was the first case of foreigners being seized in the mostly
Muslim north of Cameroon, a former
French colony. But the region – like others in West and North Africa with porous borders – is considered within the operational sphere of Boko Haram and fellow Nigerian Islamist militants Ansaru. On Sunday, seven foreigners were snatched from the compound of Lebanese construction company Setraco in northern Nigeria’s Bauchi state, and Ansaru took responsibility.
Northern Nigeria is increasingly afflicted
by attacks and kidnappings by Islamist
militants. Ansaru, which rose to
prominence only in recent months, has
claimed the abduction in December of a
French national who is still missing.Three foreigners were killed in two failed rescue attempts last year after being kidnapped in northern Nigeria and Ansaru, blamed for those kidnaps,
warned this could happen again.
The threat to French nationals in the
region has grown since France deployed thousands of troops to Mali to oust al
Qaeda-linked Islamists who controlled
the country’s north. The kidnapping in Cameroon brought to 15 the number of French citizens being held in West Africa.