French kidnap victims likely separated
22 February 2013, 10:25
Maiduguri - A kidnapped French family of seven has likely been
separated into two groups by their abductors, France said Thursday, as Nigerian
security forces combed restive border areas to find them.
The members of the family - a couple, their children aged 5,
8, 10 and 12 and an uncle - were abducted while on holiday in the West African
nation of Cameroon on Tuesday by six armed suspected Islamists on three
Cameroonian officials said they were taken across the border
into Nigeria, though Nigerian military spokesmen would not confirm that information.
One Nigerian security official however said on condition of
anonymity that they were searching near the porous border with Cameroon in the
country's northeast. The region is on the edge of the Sahara, where insurgents
and criminal gangs have long operated.
"We are fully cooperating with Nigerian and Cameroonian
authorities to find the location where our citizens are being held,"
French President Francois Hollande said in Paris.
He said the priority was to "first of all identify the
exact place where [they] are being held, probably in two groups".
The family, who were based in Cameroon, were visiting the
Waza National Park when they were kidnapped. They have been identified as
Tanguy Moulin-Fournier and his wife Albane, as well as their four sons, Eloi,
Andeol, Mael and Clarence.
Tanguy's brother Cyril Moulin-Fournier was with them at the
time and was kidnapped as well. The three adults are all around 40 years old.
The family moved to Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, in autumn
2011 when the father got a job there overseeing the construction of a liquid
natural gas plant.
"It's difficult because these are good people,"
said one of the guards at their home in Yaounde. "We didn't have an
employer-employee relationship, they were family," he added.
The Nigerian security official said "intelligence
reports have shown that the abductors may be holding their victims ... around
the Dikwa area," referring to a town in northeast Nigeria.
"But I must tell you we haven't got the exact
Hopes had been raised when a Cameroonian military source
said earlier Thursday the family had been found safe and well in Nigeria,
abandoned in a house in Dikwa, about 100km from the border
France's Veteran Affairs Minister Kader Arif confirmed that
claim but later said he had merely passed on a media report. Cameroon's
Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary bluntly stated that it was "a
An 'odious act'
Hollande has condemned the seizure as an "odious"
act, saying: "This is the first time that children have been taken hostage
in this manner."
The French foreign ministry has urged citizens in the far
north of Cameroon to leave the area as quickly as possible and advised against
travel to areas bordering Nigeria until further notice.
It could not say how many French citizens are believed to be
in the north but 6 200 in total are registered as living in Cameroon.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would not give
in to "terrorists", an apparent warning that a ransom would not be
The defence ministry said a team of French gendarmes had
arrived in Cameroon on Tuesday to help with the probe, adding that they were
being "protected by French soldiers".
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pointed the
finger at Nigeria's Boko Haram extremist group but said it was not clear
whether the kidnapping was linked to France's offensive against Islamist rebels
"These are groups that claim the same fundamentalism,
who use the same methods, whether it's in Mali, Somalia or Nigeria," he
Nigerian officials declined to comment on Boko Haram's
While French officials have named Boko Haram as the likely
culprits, a splinter faction of the group known as Ansaru, which has risen in
prominence in recent weeks, appears have targeted Western hostages.
Ansaru claimed the December kidnapping of a French national
in northern Nigeria and the abduction of seven foreigners from a construction
site in Bauchi state at the weekend.
In statements, Ansaru has protested against France's efforts
against Islamist rebels in Mali and warned of further attacks.