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Cameroon Kidnapping Could Signal Islamist Militants' New Cross-Border Focus

Nigerian-based militant groups look likely to expand their operational reach to neighbouring countries, as seen in the recent hostage taking in Cameroon.
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A road in northern Cameroon close to where to the kidnappings took place. Photograph by Carsten ten Brink.

Yesterday, on 19 February, seven French nationals were abducted by gunmen in Dabanga, near Waza National Park, in Cameroon.

France’s President François Hollande said he believed Boko Haram, Nigeria’s militant Islamist rebel group, was responsible. The hostages’ employer, French-owned firm GDF Suez, announced that the abductees had been taken to Nigeria. This incident occurred a day after Ansaru, a splinter group from Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the abduction of seven foreign construction workers – including a UK national, an Italian and a Greek – in Bauchi, northern Nigeria.

This cross-border abduction in Cameroon is unprecedented. It is very likely that Nigerian rebels are behind the abduction. Borno State, the location of Boko Haram’s stronghold, borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Boko Haram members come from the Kanuri ethnic group which spreads across the borders into those countries, making it more likely they can establish local support networks.

On 19 December, 2012, at least 102 individuals were held for questioning in Amchidé by Cameroonian security forces for suspected ties with Nigerian-based militant groups. 29 Nigerian nationals were later deported.

A peace deal between the Nigerian government and militant groups is unlikely in the three-to-five year outlook as Boko Haram splinter groups emerge. Nigerian-based militants, in particular Ansaru, are very likely to expand their operational reach to neighbouring countries including Chad where an increased presence of presumed militant Islamists has been recorded since the French-led military intervention in Mali. Western expatriates and tourists in localities closer to borders with northern Nigeria will be at severe risk of kidnap.

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