Officials in Cameroon and Italy have confirmed the kidnapping of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun who were taken during the early morning hours on Saturday.
Italy’s foreign ministry on Saturday confirmed that unidentified gunmen in Cameroon had ransacked the building where the hostages were staying in the north-western region of the country. The latest incident took place in the district of Maroua in the early hours of Saturday morning. Sources have indicated that gunmen were reported to have arrived by car before entering the building where the priests and the nun were staying at around 02:00 local time (01:00 GMT). The area is located close to a stronghold of militant Nigerian group Boko Haram.
On Sunday, Cameroonian security forces indicated that they were combing the area but have since stated that they fear the three hostages have been taken across the border and into neighbouring Nigeria. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, however Cameroonian security sources have indicated that they believe Boko Haram orchestrated the recent kidnappings.
The Italian foreign ministry has reported that the two priests, Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri, are from the Diocese of Vicenza in northern Italy. One of the priests had been in Cameroon for more than six years, while the other had arrived about a year ago. The ministry has also reported that a crisis unit to work on the release of the hostages has been set up. Canadian officials reported over the weekend that Gilberte Bussieres, 74, a nun from Quebec, had been kidnapped over night Friday. She is from Asbestos, Quebec and belongs to the Montreal-based Congregation de Notre0Dame. According to the congregation, Bussieres has worked in Africa since 1979 and ran a school in Douvangar, Cameroon. Those close to the nun have reported that they fear she is still week after having received cancer treatment in Canada two years ago.
Kidnappings of Westerners have become common in the remote, insurgency-wracked corner of West Africa, where borders are difficult to control. In November 2013, French Catholic Priest Georges Vandenbeusch was seized by heavily armed men who burst into his parish at night. They later reportedly took him to neighbouring Nigeria in an attack that was claimed by the Islamist group. Earlier in the year, a Frenchman employed by gas group Suez was kidnaped in the same area together with his wife, their children and his brother, while they were visiting a national park. Despite Abuja sealing a portion of its border with Cameroon, in a bid to block the movement of insurgents and other criminal groups, it is clear that Boko Haram militants continue to move across the border areas fairly easily.