ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — France is adopting a "determined and discrete" approach to safeguard the lives of eight French hostages kidnapped by extremist groups in and near Nigeria, an official said Saturday.
Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, made the comment to reporters at the international airport in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, after a closed-door meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as part of a West Africa trip that also took Fabius to neighboring Cameroon, where seven of the eight hostages were captured.
He declined to offer any update about the hostage-taking, emphasizing that discretion is needed to secure their freedom, especially since young children are involved. "The youngest (hostage) is less than 5 years old," Fabius said in French, "so it is in the name of humanity that they need to be freed both quickly and well."
A video posted on YouTube three weeks ago showed armed men holding the French family of three adults and four children taken from outside a national park in Cameroon's Far North Region on Feb. 19. The captors said they belonged to Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north. Authorities believe the hostages were brought to Nigeria after being seized from Cameroon.
Two months earlier, more than 30 assailants kidnapped a French engineer from his home during a raid that left two Nigerians dead in a quiet town in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, where the engineer was working on a renewable energy project for the French firm Vergnet SA.
That was the first Nigeria kidnapping believed to be linked to France's military intervention in Mali. Other French hostages have been kidnapped elsewhere in the region since France announced its intention to launch its Mali offensive aimed at helping the West African country's embattled government rid its vast north of militants imposing harsh Islamic rule.
Nigeria's foreign minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, thanked France for its "decisive intervention" in Mali during Saturday's news conference in Abuja. "If the French had not taken the step they took at that time," Ashiru said, "Mali would have today become a terrorist country, and if that happens the target would be to further destabilize the sub-region."
The French minister's visit came days after European diplomats said the seven foreign workers who had been kidnapped from northern Nigeria on Feb. 16 had been killed by their captors. However, Nigeria's government has not commented on the killings, which stoked fears about extremists' readiness to execute their captives in a country better known for quick ransom kidnappings.
The hostages included two Lebanese, one citizen each from the United Kingdom, Greece and Italy, and two people now believed to have been Syrian. The kidnapping and subsequent killings were claimed by Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram.