YAOUNDE, Cameroon - Military helicopters are searching for a vacationing French family of seven kidnapped in Cameroon and security around the region is being increased amid tensions over France's role in western Africa.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered tight security measures and urgent steps to free the hostages, who include four children. They were kidnapped by armed gunmen in the country's far north on Tuesday and whisked toward Nigeria. A ministry statement said the Cameroonian government is in contact with Nigerian and French authorities.
Officials suggested the involvement of Boko Haram, one of Nigeria's Islamic extremist sects.
Nigeria's borders were also put on red alert in the hunt for the kidnappers believed to be in the country or heading to the country, said Nigeria's comptroller general of immigration, Rilwan Musa.
"We have already sent alert messages across the northeast borders and all other borders of the nation," he said. "We have told our men to be on the alert. We have given the borders posts all the supports they need to tackle them whether in the day or at night."
The kidnapping came as thousands of French troops are deeply involved in a military intervention against Islamic extremists who had taken control of a big part of the West African country of Mali.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, called it an "odious act" and expressed particular horror that children were involved, according to his government spokeswoman.
France's defense minister said Wednesday that there was no proven link between the French operation in Mali and the Cameroon kidnapping. But, speaking on France-2 television, Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "These are groups who adhere to the same fundamentalism and who have the same methods, whether it is in Mali, in Somalia or in Nigeria, who want to create a lawless zone" stretching from the Atlantic across the southern edge of the Sahara to Sudan.
France's government warned French citizens to avoid travel in northern Cameroon after the kidnapping and urged anyone currently there to leave immediately.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot, in an online exchange with reporters Wednesday, said that in northern Cameroon, "There was never a security incident linked to terrorism; Nigerian terrorist groups had never carried out actions in this part of Cameroon."
A Cameroonian government official said military helicopters were being used in the search.
The French gas group GDF Suez identified the captives as an employee working in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde and his family. French media says the children are between 5 and 12 years old.
Cameroon state television cited government sources in the locality saying that the three adults have been separated from the four children.
The family was on tour at the Waza National Park in Cameroon's Far-North Region before they were abducted at gunpoint by five gunmen aboard motorbikes, according to paramilitary sources in the area.
A Cameroon government statement late Tuesday night said the hostages were abducted at Sabongari, seven kilometers from Dabanga, which flanks Cameroon's frontier with Nigeria. The statement did not say whether the Cameroon government is in contact with the kidnappers.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Click on the region names in the map below to see news from that region.
Things To Do
INSIDE: View our list of fun events happening this week around the Valley.
RIGHT NOW: Top Stories
While immigration reform is stalled in Congress, some members are calling on President Barack Obama to take the matter into his own hands, urging him to suspend deportations of undocumented immigrants.
A maintenance worker shot and killed at a Glendale apartment complex Tuesday is being praised as a dedicated husband, father and grandfather.
Detectives reportedly found thousands of ecstasy pills, plus 30 pounds of products to make the drugs, inside the 20-year-old suspect's dorm room.
Police chased a stolen FedEx truck Wednesday evening after a man hopped into the vehicle when its original driver left the keys in the ignition.
A car slid off a slushy Arizona mountain highway and went 230 feet down a steep slope, but the four occupants were able to climb back up and flag down another driver to summon help.
Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston will not be charged with sexually assaulting a woman who accused him of raping her about a year ago, a prosecutor said Thursday.