Wednesday, February 20, 2013

West Africa: French Family of Seven Kidnapped in Cameroon, Nigerian Islamists Suspected

According to Reuters, Islamist militants from neighboring Nigeria abducted a French family of seven, including four children, in northern Cameroon on Tuesday (February 19). 

Political threats on French nationals and interests in Africa have risen dramatically since France sent forces into Mali last month to help repel Islamist rebels occupying the country's north.

The kidnappers, on motorcycles and armed with AK-47s, abducted the family inside of Cameroon and ordered them to drive to neighboring Nigeria. Their 4-wheel vehicle was later found abandoned.

Western governments are concerned that Nigeria's Boko Haram may be working with other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) states, particularly al-Qaeda's North African wing, AQIM, given the conflict in nearby Mali.

The family was kidnapped in Dabanga, which is located just six miles (10 kilometers) from the Nigerian border near the Waza National Park, where they had spent the night, an area popular with Western expats. 

The parents of the family, which included two boys and two girls as well as another relative, worked for French utility firm GDF Suez. GDF, is building a liquefied natural gas project in south Cameroon.

According to media reports, this is the first time that foreigners have been abducted in Cameroon.

Eight French citizens are already being held in West Africa's Sahel region by al- Qaeda-affiliated groups.

France's Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning to French citizens following the abduction later on Tuesday advising its nationals not to travel to the extreme north region of Cameroon and those already there should take precautionary measures and leave as soon as possible.

COMMENT: Cameroon is a largely secular state where 70% of the population is Christian and roughly 24% are moderate Muslim. Most Cameroon Muslims live in the three northern regions of the country. Until now, there have been no known links between Muslims in north Cameroon and Islamists in northern Nigeria.

As I said very emphatically in my 2008 book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, which will be fully updated in a 2013 edition this spring, "...there are NO safe countries anymore, largely because criminals and terrorists will go to where the targets are."

After France invaded Mali earlier this year, that should have been a warning to all Westerners to "hunker down" and go into a proactive security awareness mode, given how active and provocative al-Qaeda has been throughout SSA. 

The one solidifying strategy  that all extremists adhere to, regardless of affiliation, is that "one must know thy adversary." 

Engrained in all terrorist groups is the essential need to carefully observe their targets wherever they may be in the hope of guaranteeing success, regardless of the tactic used (e.g. bombings, facility attacks, kidnapping, etc.).

Thus, all targets, criminal or political, must fully understand how al-Qaeda-linked groups operate and learn the skills of "surveillance detection." Otherwise, successful terrorist operations will continue, as they did in Algeria in January.  

Generally speaking, when you see "one terrorist operation successfully conducted," you will see another occur elsewhere, where it is least expected.  

It should also noted that on Sunday (February 17),  seven foreigners were abducted from the compound of Lebanese construction company Setraco in northern Nigeria's Bauchi state, where al-Qaeda-linked Ansaru took responsibility. Ansaru, which rose to prominence only recently, also claimed responsibility for the abduction in December of a French national who is still missing. Ansaru is also thought to have loose ties to Boko Haram, which has killed hundreds during a three-year-long insurgency focused mostly on the security forces, facility attacks, religious targets and politicians.