French girl’s kidnapping was ‘Chechen wedding tradition’

A teenage girl whose forceful bundling into a BMW in the south of France sparked a nationwide appeal for witnesses was the victim of a traditional Chechen pre-marriage kidnapping, it emerged on Friday.

Witnesses had told how on Sunday three people in a BMW had snatched the previously unidentified girl, aged 16 or 17, as she left a park with a companion who appeared to be involved in the abduction.  

The manner of her disappearance led to a nationwide appeal for witnesses in a bid to find the girl, reportedly wearing a light-coloured skirt at the time of her abduction, from Privas in the southeastern Ardeche region.  

Police received calls from as far afield as Belgium and Switzerland from people who thought they might have seen her.  

An umbrella she left at the scene of the “crime” was sent to a laboratory for analysis in the hope of finding a clue as to her identity or that of her abductors.  

The main witness said that a Volkswagen Passat had cut them off as they tried to give chase.

Another witness said they had seen a BMW acting suspiciously in the area shortly before the kidnapping.  

Police eventually managed to identify the girl and trace her family to the southwestern Haute-Garonne region, hundreds of kilometres away, where they found her unharmed on Thursday, a source close to the enquiry told AFP.  

Her family explained that she had simply fallen victim to the Chechen tradition whereby the groom’s family kidnaps the bride-to-be ahead of the wedding.  

“The enquiry is still underway,” the local prosecutor insisted, declining to comment on the Chechen connection.

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France’s mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo

A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture, officials said.

France's mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo
Photo: AFP/ Sapeurs Pompiers du Nord

The feline was seized overnight from the zoo in Maubeuge near the Belgian border, the city's mayor, Arnaud Decagny, told AFP on Tuesday.

“This animal was the only target,” Decagny said, adding that “considerable efforts” were made to force locks and avoid security systems.

Zoo personnel are worried about the young panther's health, “which is rather delicate because he lacks strength,” the mayor added, saying the animal was just a few months old and weighed between 25 and 30kg.

The panther after its capture. Photo League Protectrice des Animaux de la Nord de France/AFP

The panther was going to be transferred to a centre specialised in rehabilitating wild animals that had been domesticated.

Firefighters caught the cat last Wednesday as it roamed rooftops in Armentieres after escaping through the window of a private apartment believed to have been its home.

The panther's owner is thought to have escaped through the same window, for fear of being charged with illegally harbouring a wild animal.

Police have not located the fugitive owner, who could face charges of endangering the public, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and €15,000 in fines, Decagny said.