19 Feb 2013

Cameroon kidnappings: a widening al-Qaeda linked war?

This morning seven French tourists, including three children, were kidnapped in the remote north-west of Cameroon.

On Sunday, 600 kilometres to the west, over the border in Nigeria, seven foreign workers on a construction site were taken.

This is the price of the French intervention in Mali. The problem was already there – eight French and several other European hostages seized in the last few years are still being held in Mali, probably in the mountains near the Algerian border.

Ransom for hostages is, after all, how al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb built up enough funds to control northern Mali. Now we may see kidnappings of westerners all over the region.

“Kidnappings in northern Nigeria probably will become more frequent,” says the intelligence website, Stratfor.

“As al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb comes under more pressure in northern Mali, it will use all available means, including its affiliate groups, to continue its insurgency.”

No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in Cameroon, a country which has not suffered from terrorism before, and where adventurous French people go on holiday.

According to Radio France International, the family taken this morning had been camping near the Waza national park, when a group of men on motorbikes abducted them.

The kidnappings near Jamaare in Nigeria on Sunday, in which four Lebanese and there Europeans were taken, seem to be the work of Jamaatu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladissudan, which translates as “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in the Land of the Blacks”, who sent an email to journalists yesterday saying the attack was in retaliation for the “transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali.”

Today a photo emerged which is believed to show the hostages and their captors.

Ansaru was little known until December, when it claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French national who is still missing. A German engineer, a Briton and an Italian, all of whom were killed during attempted rescues last year, are also believed to have been seized by Ansaru, which split from the better known Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram last January, apparently because they disagreed with the killing of Muslims.

According to Stratfor, “the group appears to have stronger ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and, unlike Boko Haram, has stated its intention to move its struggle beyond Nigeria’s borders.”

Today’s kidnapping in Cameroon may be the first evidence of that widening war.

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