LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A German development worker and two children of a Muslim cleric have been kidnapped this week by suspected Islamic extremists in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, according to a Nigerian police spokesman and Cameroon state radio.
The kidnappings come as both Nigeria's military and Boko Haram extremists have been claiming victories on the battlefield in a rapidly spreading Islamic insurgency in Africa's most populous nation and biggest oil producer.
Boko Haram has attracted international condemnation for the abductions of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who have been in captivity for 3 months.
Witnesses report that a German worker at a technical skills training center was taken at gunpoint from his car in Gombi town of Adamawa state Wednesday morning, deputy police superintendent Othman Abubakar said Thursday. Police are in hot pursuit to try to rescue the hostage, he said.
The area has been attacked in the past by Boko Haram and the region has been under a military state of emergency since May 2013.
The German Foreign Ministry confirmed that it is "aware of the case" but declined to comment further in line with its policy of not publicly discussing kidnappings.
The news was first reported by an online Nigerian website, 36ng, which quoted town residents saying the German was well-known because he helped the town, such as by repairing wells at his own expense.
State radio in neighboring Cameroon reported this week that Boko Haram fighters kidnapped two teenage children of a leading Muslim cleric from their home of Limani, near the border with Nigeria.
It was the first reported kidnapping by Boko Haram of Cameroonian citizens, though the extremists have long been known to use Cameroon as a base and to launch attacks in Nigeria.
There was no immediate claim for either of the abductions. Boko Haram rarely claims responsibility for kidnappings of foreigners that are believed to have earned it millions of dollars in ransoms in the past two years.
Nigeria's military and government have been criticized for failing to quickly rescue the 200 schoolgirls and to curb the uprising that this year has spread to other areas from the extremists' stronghold in the northeast of the country.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement this week that its air raids have successfully obliterated Boko Haram camps in Balmo Forest in northern Bauchi state — another indicator that the uprising is spreading. Politicians have blamed recent attacks in central Nigeria on Boko Haram insurgents posing as Fulani Muslim herders who traditionally clash with mainly Christian sedentary farmers in that region.
Human Rights Watch published a report this week saying the insurgency has killed at least 2,053 civilians in an estimated 95 attacks during the first half of 2014. That compares to an estimated 3,600 people killed in the first four years of the insurgency.
The New York-based advocacy group also reported "a dramatic increase "in casualties from bomb blasts, with at least 432 people reported killed in 14 blasts so far this year.
That figure did not include at least four people who died in two June 25 explosions in Lagos, the commercial capital, that the government tried to cover up saying there was one explosion caused by a cooking gas cylinder. Western diplomats confirmed to the AP that a car bomb and woman suicide bomber were responsible and Boko Haram claimed the attack in a video this week. It is the first reported bombing by Boko Haram in Lagos, an Atlantic seaport and probably the most populous city on the continent with some 20 million residents.
President Goodluck Jonathan is asking legislators to approve an external loan of up to $1 billion to upgrade military equipment and training. In a letter to National Assembly leaders on Wednesday he said the money was urgently needed. Nigeria's military budget already amounts to about $6.25 billion a year, but large sums are believed squandered in endemic corruption.
Soldiers have told The Associated Press that they are demoralized, badly fed and ill-equipped. Politicians in the northeast, which is controlled by the opposition, also charge that Boko Haram is better equipped and motivated than Nigeria's armed forces.