John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Kidnapped French Family Freed in Cameroon

by John Campbell
April 19, 2013

French President Francois Hollande (C) speaks with Cameroon's President Paul Biya (R) after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 30, 2013. (Philippe Wojazer/Courtesy Reuters).


While attention is focused on the manhunt for the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, there is good news from West Africa. In a Paris news conference, French president Francois Hollande announced that the French family of seven kidnapped in northern Cameroon—including four children—have finally been released after two months of captivity. Hollande said the release followed several weeks of secret negotiations, and that the French had not paid a ransom. As has been well documented, ransoms paid by European countries in the past have been a significant source of revenue for terrorist operations in West Africa and the Sahel.

In March, an alleged Boko Haram video threatened to kill the hostages, presumably including the children, unless militants were released from detention. This is a frequent demand and a high priority for Boko Haram, and it has carried out organized attacks on prisons aimed at freeing detained militants.

However, there are many unanswered questions. What group really held the hostages? Did the kidnappers sell the hostages to Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram? (Boko Haram has not typically resorted to kidnapping expatriates, while Ansaru, another radical Islamist group, has.) With whom did the French negotiate? Who were their interlocutors, those who held the hostages or a third party? Where did the negotiations take place? What were the terms of the release?

Whatever the answers, the horror for one family is over.

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