Haruna Umar and Sunday Alamba
Associated Press, Maiduguri, March 18, 2013
A man who appears to be a French hostage held by Islamic extremists has appeared in a video filmed three days ago, in the second recording released since he and his family were kidnapped on Feb. 19 in northern Cameroon, as authorities fail to stop the spiraling violence of Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency.
The video's audio airs a man's voice that identifies himself as Tanguy Moulin-Fournier. He says that his family is being held by the Islamic radical sect known as Boko Haram which wants all its members freed, especially women and children held in Nigerian and Cameroonian custody.
Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north. They are held responsible for more than 790 deaths last year alone, and dozens more since the beginning of this year.
Two secondary schools were attacked on Monday alone, leaving a teacher dead and three girl students injured in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the sect's spiritual home, military spokesman Sagir Musa said. He blamed the Boko Haram sect and said local security forces had killed three of its members in a counterattack.
Hours later, at least one explosion hit a crowded bus park for long distance travel in the northern city of Kano. People were killed and injured, said National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Yushau Shuaib, who couldn't immediately provide a casualty figure. It was not clear if there had been one or multiple explosions, said Shuaib, or if the explosion had been an accident or a bomb. However, residents' suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram, as the blast occurred in a Christian enclave in a predominantly Muslim city.
Nigerian presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said in a statement Monday that Nigeria "will not be stampeded, for any reason whatsoever, into abandoning its unrelenting war against terrorists in the country."
However, the French hostage-taking from a neighboring country would further internationalize an insurgency which has imposed a reign of terror on northern Nigeria for more than two years.
"We lose force (strength) every day and start to be sick; we will not stay very long like this," Moulin-Fournier says in the recording.
The family has been held hostage for 25 days, he says in a shaky voice, giving the only date indication on the recording. The family comprising of Tanguy, his brother, his wife and their four children was kidnapped outside a national park in Cameroon's Far North region.
The video was not immediately available, but a media source who viewed it says it shows the Moulin-Fournier family, including the four children. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
"They will not be able to get the seven hostages unless they free our members," one of the family's captors says in the recording, speaking in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north.
This is the second video showing the family since another video was posted on YouTube three weeks ago. But their health and spirits appear to be deteriorating.
"The living conditions are very hard," Moulin-Fournier said, "(heat), water, food, sleep, life in the desert, et cetera--conditions even more difficult for the white men that we are who are not used to the African (heat) and for the kids."
The video comes days after French foreign minister Laurent Fabius visited Nigeria and Cameroon as part of a campaign to get the hostages freed. He said that, in addition to the family of seven, extremists also hold an eighth French national who had been working on a renewable energy project in northern Nigeria. It is not clear which extremist group currently holds the French engineer kidnapped on Dec. 19.
Fabius said he had been working with Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities using an approach that he described as "determined and discrete."\
The hostage situation is exacerbated by the recent killings of other foreign hostages held by a splinter group of Boko Haram.
European diplomats said those seven foreign workers who had been kidnapped from northern Nigeria on Feb. 16 had been killed by their captors after a video showing some of the corpses was made public. The killings stoked fears about the extremists' readiness to execute their captives in a country better known for quick ransom kidnappings.
However, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told journalists Monday that all seven hostages, including two Lebanese nationals, one citizen each from the United Kingdom, Greece and Italy, and two people now believed to have been Syrian, may not be dead. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, who visited President Jonathan in Abuja Monday, said that he still had hopes that the hostages would be freed.
"And that if they are killed," Jonathan said, "I insisted (during his meeting with Lebanese counterpart) that we must get their corpses."
Associated Press reporters Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Salisu Rabiu in Kano and Bashir Adigun in Abuja contributed to this report.