Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun have been kidnapped by gunmen in northern Cameroon, a bishop and a government source said, in the latest kidnapping incident targeting Christian clergy in the African country.
"Doors were broken towards midnight by unknown people and the religious were taken away. We do not know where they are. The act is not yet claimed but we imagine who is behind this kidnapping," Bishop Phillippe Stevens told Reuters news agency on Saturday from the parish of Maroua where the kidnapping took place.
He named the priests as Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri, both missionaries sent out by the diocese of Vicenza in northeast Italy, and the nun as Gilberte Bissiere.
The Italian foreign ministry said that two priests had been seized, but gave no other details.
Local governor Augustine Fonka Awa told Reuters that Bissiere was in her 70s and ill and had intended to return to Canada when she was seized.
Pope Francis was aware of the kidnappings and praying for those taken, the Vatican press office said.
Government sources in northern Cameroon said armed forces were attempting to free the hostages, without going into further details.
Allegri had written to his home diocese last month saying local authorities had advised him to travel with a police escort.
"Even if on the surface you do not notice anything in particular that is alarming, it is palpable in our feelings and our conversations," he wrote in the letter dated March 12 posted on the diocesan website.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported on its website that the victims were staying in the northern Maroua region, which borders northern Nigeria, a stronghold of the Boko Haram rebel group.
The attack comes three months after the release of French priest Georges Vandenbeusch, who was kidnapped in the same region in mid-November 2013 and then held in neighbouring Nigeria by Boko Haram.
One of the two priests taken on Friday night had been in Cameroon for more than six years, while the second had arrived around a year ago, Ansa news agency reported.