comments_image Comments

Boko Haram 'holding kidnapped French priest': group source

A screengrab taken from a video on September 25, 2013 shows a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram
A screengrab taken from a video on September 25, 2013 shows a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram

Boko Haram is holding a French priest who was kidnapped in northern Cameroon, a source in the banned Nigerian Islamist group said on Friday, rejecting claims of a rift among the insurgents.

"I can confirm that the French priest is in the hands of mujahideen (fighters) from Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna Li Da’wat al-Jihad, who carried out the operation that was co-ordinated with Ansaru," he told AFP.

Boko Haram prefers to go by the Arabic name, which translates as "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad" (holy war).

Ansaru is an offshoot of the militant group and has previously claimed kidnappings of foreign nationals.

The United States on Wednesday blacklisted both Boko Haram and Ansaru as terror groups, bowing to months of pressure to act after years of bloody violence in northeast and central Nigeria that has left thousands dead.

French priest Georges Vandenbeusch stands outside his church in Sceaux, south of Paris on July 21, 2011
French priest Georges Vandenbeusch stands outside his church in Sceaux, south of Paris on July 21, 2011

Hours after the declaration overnight Wednesday-Thursday, armed men abducted Roman Catholic priest Georges Vandenbeusch from his home near the town of Koza in northern Cameroon, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Nigerian border.

He was seized by about 15 people, who burst into his Nguetchewe parish base, according to the bishop of the Nanterre diocese near Paris, which has authority over the cleric.

The Boko Haram source, who did not want to be identified, declined also to say where the 42-year-old priest was being held, after the Cameroon authorities said they feared he had been taken across the border into Nigeria.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said the abduction bore all the hallmarks of the proscribed group.

The Boko Haram source said: "Mujahideen will tell the world more about the hostage at the appropriate time."

He added that claims of rifts within the ranks of the insurgent group, which has been linked to Al-Qaeda's operations in north and western Africa, were wide of the mark.

Boko Haram originally claimed to be fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and has made suicide bombing and gun attacks its trademark.

Ansaru has been linked to at least three hostage-takings of foreigners since 2011 and has mentioned France's intervention in Mali and European nations' "atrocities done to the religion of Allah" when claiming kidnappings.

"There is a deliberate attempt by the enemies of Islam to portray Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna Li Da’wat al-Jihad as sharply divided," the source said.

"What they don't know or ignore is that the two groups work closely together and most of the operations by the mujahideen are jointly carried out by the mujahideen from both sides."

AFP tried to verify the Boko Haram claim from other sources but there was no immediate information available from the authorities.

The kidnapping of Vandenbeusch, who had been working in the area for two years and had ignored French government warnings about the dangers of staying in the region, brings to eight the total number of French hostages held worldwide.

Four others are being held in Syria, another in Nigeria and two in the Sahel region on the southern fringes of the Sahara desert.

In February, a Frenchman employed by the gas group Suez in Yaounde was kidnapped with his wife, their four children and his brother while visiting a national park near the Nigerian border.

They were then taken across the notoriously porous frontier. The kidnapping was later claimed by Boko Haram, which has been waging a deadly insurgency in northern Nigeria since 2009.

The family was released in April but France denied paying a ransom or launching a military operation to secure their freedom.

Today's Top Stories