France will not negotiate with gunmen claiming to be from the Nigerian group Boko Haram who kidnapped a French family of seven, the country’s defence minister said on Tuesday.
The three adults and four children were seized in north Cameroon near the Nigerian border last week. In a video posted on YouTube on Monday, gunmen threatened to kill them unless authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon release prisoners held there.
But in an interview with RTL radio, Jean-Yves Le Drian rejected a “bidding game” with kidnappers. “We do not negotiate on that kind of basis, with these kind of groups,” he said. “We will use all [other] possiblie means to ensure these and other hostage are freed.”
The abduction was the first case of foreigners being seized in the mostly Muslim north of Cameroon, a former French colony. But the region – with typically porous borders – is considered within the operational sphere of Boko Haram and fellow Nigerian militants Ansaru.
‘A war on Islam’
The kidnapping highlighted the risk to French citizens in Africa since Paris sent troops into Mali to oust Islamists there.
“The president of France has launched a war on Islam,” said one of the apparent kidnappers in the video, warning the hostages would be killed if their demands were not met.
French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed that Boko Haram had kidnapped the family, saying they were probably being held in Nigeria.
“The video tape… is being studied by our [intelligence] services, who are examining precisely the nature of these claims,” he said. “French authorities are in close and permanent contact with Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities.”
A source close to the family confirmed the identities of the family members shown in the video to the AFP news agency. It was not clear when the video was made.
Cameroon’s communication minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said he could not comment because his government was not aware of the video.
The governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Augustine Fonka Awa, said he was not aware of any Boko Haram members being held in the country.