(L.A. TIMES) JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Gunmen on motorcycles kidnapped seven French tourists, including four children, who had been staying at a nature reserve in Cameroon near its border with Nigerian border, French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday.
“They have been taken by a terrorist group that we know and that is in Nigeria,” Hollande told reporters during a visit to Greece.
The attack came a day after the Nigerian extremist group Ansaru claimed responsibility for kidnapping seven foreigners in northern Nigeria’s Bauchi state Saturday in revenge for France’s military action in Mali. French troops deployed last month to drive out Islamist militias who seized control of much of northern Mali last year.
No group has claimed responsibility for the latest kidnapping.
Ansaru is a splinter group from the Nigerian Islamist insurgent organization Boko Haram and has been involved in at least two other incidents involving kidnappings of foreigners. Boko Haram has tended to focus on bombings and shootings, mainly targeted at Nigerian security forces, politicians and Christians.
However Hollande suggested the latest kidnapping was by Boko Haram, not Ansaru.
“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,” Hollande said.
Ansaru announced its split from Boko Haram last year.
Radio France International reported that the tourists were kidnapped about 7 a.m. in a small village in the Dadanga region of Cameroon a few miles from the Nigerian border, after staying the night at a nature reserve. They were reportedly taken by five gunmen on motorbikes toward Nigeria, in a region where borders are often porous and ill-patrolled.
Kidnappings in northern Nigeria, Niger and Mali, particularly of French nationals, have become increasingly common in recent years as obtaining ransoms for Europeans has become big business.
Seven French nationals are being held in Mali by the Al Qaeda affiliate in the region, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, after being captured in the last two years in Mali or Niger.
In some cases criminals kidnap foreigners and sell them to the Al Qaeda.
In Saturday’s attack, Ansaru gunmen attacked a prison in Jamaare, Bauchi state, before blasting their way into a housing compound for foreign workers employed by a Lebanese construction company, Setraco. They then kidnapped seven foreigners, including a Briton, a Greek, an Italian, three Lebanese and a Filipino, according to Associated Press.
The militia issued a statement that the kidnapping was in reprisal for European military deployments in Mali and Afghanistan. It warned that the captives would be killed if any rescue effort was launched. But it made no demand for a ransom.
Ansaru killed two captives — Chris McManus of Britain and Franco Lamolinara of Italy — in northern Nigeria in March as Nigerian security forces backed by British special forces mounted an unsuccessful rescue.
Ansaru is also believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a French engineer for French wind farm company Vergnet, in December in Nigeria’s Katsina state.
French troops have driven Islamist militias from northern cities and towns in Mali in recent weeks. They now face a more difficult job in crushing the militias, with the Islamists hiding out in northern Mali and launching guerrilla attacks.