Kidnapped French family likely ‘held in two groups’

A kidnapped French family of seven has likely been separated into two groups by their abductors, France said, as Nigerian security forces combed restive border areas to find them.

Kidnapped French family likely 'held in two groups'
Photo: AFP

The members of the family –  a couple, their children aged five, eight, 10 and 12 and an uncle –  were abducted while on holiday in the West African nation of Cameroon on Tuesday by six armed suspected Islamists on three motorbikes.

Cameroonian officials said they were taken across the border into Nigeria, though Nigerian military spokesmen would not confirm that information.

One Nigerian security official however said on condition of anonymity that they were searching near the porous border with Cameroon in the country's northeast. The region is on the edge of the Sahara, where insurgents and criminal gangs have long operated.

"We are fully cooperating with Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities to find the location where our citizens are being held," French President Francois Hollande said in Paris on Thursday. He said the priority was to "first of all identify the exact place where (they) are being held, probably in two groups".

The family, who were based in Cameroon, were visiting the Waza National Park when they were kidnapped. They have been identified as Tanguy Moulin-Fournier and his wife Albane, as well as their four sons, Eloi, Andeol, Mael and Clarence.

Tanguy's brother Cyril Moulin-Fournier was with them at the time and was kidnapped as well. The three adults are all around 40 years old. The family moved to Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, in autumn 2011 when the father got a job there overseeing the construction of a liquid natural gas plant.

"It's difficult because these are good people," said one of the guards at their home in Yaounde. "We didn't have an employer-employee relationship, they were family," he added.

The Nigerian security official said "intelligence reports have shown that the abductors may be holding their victims … around the Dikwa area," referring to a town in northeast Nigeria. "But I must tell you we haven't got the exact location."

Hopes had been raised when a Cameroonian military source said earlier on Thursday that the family had been found safe and well in Nigeria, abandoned in a house in Dikwa, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border with Cameroon.

France's Veteran Affairs Minister Kader Arif confirmed that claim but later said he had merely passed on a media report. Cameroon's Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary bluntly stated that it was "a wild rumour".

France has said it suspects Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram was behind the abduction.

Earlier in the week French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would not give in to terrorists. Seeming to exclude the possibility of paying a ransom, Fabius told the National Assembly: "We must do the maximum [to free the hostages] but nothing would be worse than yielding. We will not yield to terrorist groups."

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Hostages safe in Paris armed robbery

Several people taken hostage Friday evening in a Paris travel agency were released safe and sound, police said, but the armed robber who seized them was on the run.

Hostages safe in Paris armed robbery
Photo: AFP

“Armed robbery on Massena Boulevard in Paris: operation over,” police tweeted. “Six people have left. The thief is not on the premises.”

Other police sources said seven hostages had been “found safe and sound “after the hold-up at the travel agency in the Chinatown area of southern Paris' 13th arrondissement.

The incident sparked a major police operation in the French capital, where security jitters remain high after a string of terrorist attacks over the last two years, including the November 2015 Paris attacks which left 132 people dead.

Police set up a security perimeter around the Asieland travel agency, which specialises in Asian travel.

Drivers were warned to stay away from the area. Police sources told AFP earlier that the robber was armed with a handgun.

The agency sits in Paris' 13th arrondissement, a residential area that is packed with Asian restaurants and is home to a large Chinese community.

The ground-floor offices sit at the base of a large residential tower block and next to one of Paris' main tram lines.

The robber had attacked the company at around 6:30 pm (1730 GMT), trapping several people inside.

The hostages were let out around two and a half hours later, “their hands on their heads”, a police source said, adding that they were “taken into the care of emergency services in a neighbouring building”.

Police then searched the building and realised the attacker had fled the scene.

“We saw four or five people coming out with their hands on their heads, followed by around 15 officers,” local resident Zinedine told AFP.

“There was no shooting, we heard no explosion. It's over,” said the 55-year-old, who had left home to buy cigarettes.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked police for their “speed and professionalism” on Twitter, adding: “I offer all my support to the staff and customers of the agency that were confronted with this criminal act.”

The capital is under tight security, with troops patrolling the streets daily, under a state of emergency imposed by President Francois Hollande after last year's Paris attacks.

The hold-up in Chinatown comes at a time of heightened safety concerns among Paris' large Chinese community following a fatal attack on a tailor in August and a series of muggings.

More than 10,000 Chinese Parisians staged a protest march in September calling for increased security for the community following the killing of Zhang Chaolin, beaten to death during a robbery.

Photo: GoogleMaps