7 Kidnapped French Hostages Appear In Boko Haram Video


7 Kidnapped French Hostages Appear In Boko Haram Video
A video posted online yesterday apparently showed seven French hostages kidnapped from northern Cameroon, with a masked militant claiming the radical Islamic group Boko Haram from neighbouring Nigeria held them.

The video, posted to YouTube and mentioned on a jihadist website, shows one of two French men reading a statement, with a woman in between them. Four children sit on the ground near them, flanked by two masked militants wearing camouflage uniforms and holding rifles.

A masked militant in front said in the video that Boko Haram kidnapped the French hostages, who were taken from Cameroon’s far North Region last week. A black banner in the background, bearing the images of the Qur’an flanked by two Kalashnikov assault rifles, also resembles a symbol previously used by Boko Haram.

The man said the kidnappings came due to the French military intervention in northern Mali, where its troops have fought with Malian soldiers against Islamic extremists who took over the north in the months following a coup last year. The man also threatened the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, calling on them to release their imprisoned members.

“Let the French president know that he has launched war against Islam, and we are fighting him everywhere,” the man said in Arabic. “Let him know that we are spread everywhere to save our brothers.”

The man threatened to kill the French hostages if the group’s demands were not met.

The Associated Press could not immediately confirm the video’s authenticity by yesterday, though it shared similarities with some Boko Haram propaganda videos published in the past. However, in this video, the man spoke entirely in Arabic, while other Boko Haram videos had its leader Abubakar Shekau also speaking the Hausa language of Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. However, Boko Haram had not published a video featuring hostages before. The video also appeared to have been filmed outside, as prayer mats hung in the background sway in a breeze.

The French gas group, GDF Suez, last week identified the captives as an employee working in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde and his family. The group was vacationing in the north, a company statement said without elaborating.

Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers continue to search for them in the arid, rural border region the two countries share in West Africa.

Waza Park, a natural wildlife reserve in Cameroon’s Far North Region, attracts mainly foreign tourists. But the area often suffers from raids by bandits lurking in Cameroon, Chad and neighbouring Nigeria, who often abduct locals for ransom. A local witness told the AP he saw gunmen on motorcycles abduct the tourists. They were kidnapped on February 19.

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.

The sect, which typically speaks to journalists in telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment yesterday.

Boko Haram remains highly fragmented, without a clear command-and-control structure. One splinter organization launched from Boko Haram appears to be Ansaru, which has claimed the recent northern Nigeria kidnappings of a British citizen, a Greek, an Italian, three Lebanese and one Filipino, all employees of a Lebanese construction company called Setraco. The group earlier claimed the kidnapping in December of a French national working on a renewal energy project in Nigeria’s northern Katsina State.

However, the video claiming the kidnapping comes after supposed Boko Haram leaders denied they took part in the kidnapping this weekend — leading to more questions about who actually remains in control of the group. Shekau hasn’t been seen in a video since late November.

A total of 15 French citizens are currently being held in western Africa — in addition to the seven kidnapped in Cameroon, there is one other in Nigeria and seven thought to be in northern Mali.
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