A video appearing to show seven French citizens, including four children, kidnapped in Cameroon last week was posted on YouTube Monday.
In the video, one of the hostages read a statement from a piece of paper, saying they were taken by Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants who were demanding the release of Islamist militants jailed in Nigeria and Cameroon.
“They want the liberation of their brothers in Cameroon and their women imprisoned in Nigeria” the hostage said.
The kidnapping on Tuesday of the seven French nationals in Cameroon’s far north, near the border with Nigeria, highlighted the risk to French citizens in Africa since Paris sent troops into Mali to oust Islamists there.
“The president of France has launched a war on Islam,” said one of the apparent kidnappers, warning the hostages would be killed if their demands were not met. It is not clear when the video was made.
France’s foreign ministry said it was still trying to verify the authenticity of the video.
It added that the video was a “shocking” display of the kidnappers' cruelty.
“A video of the French family kidnapped last Tuesday in northern Cameroon has been released by Boko Haram,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
“For all of us, these images are terribly shocking. They display a cruelty without bounds,” Fabius said. “We are proceeding with the checks required in these circumstances. All state resources are mobilized to free our compatriots.”
The more than three-minute video shows the family, including four children, held in an undisclosed location, surrounded by at least three of the abductors whose faces are hidden. A source close to the family confirmed their identities to AFP.
This is the first set of images to emerge since the seven French nationals were abducted in Cameroon last week.
The family, with children aged 5 to 12, were kidnapped in the West African nation while visiting a national park.
Cameroon authorities said the family was taken over the border into Nigeria’s restive northeast.
Despite claims in the video, it was not immediately clear if the abductors were indeed from Boko Haram, which has carried out a violent insurgency for years in northern and central Nigeria but has never before claimed a kidnapping.
A splinter faction of the group known as Ansaru, which has risen in prominence in recent weeks, appears to have focused specifically on targeting foreign hostages.
Ansaru claimed the December kidnapping of a French national in northern Nigeria and the recent abduction of seven foreigners from a construction site in Bauchi state.
In statements Ansaru has protested against France’s efforts against Islamist rebels in Mali among other issues.
The family, who were based in Cameroon, were visiting the Waza National Park when they were kidnapped. They have been identified as Tanguy Moulin-Fournier and his wife Albane, as well as their four sons, Eloi, Andeol, Mael and Clarence.
Tanguy’s brother Cyril Moulin-Fournier was on vacation and with them at the time. The three adults are all around 40 years old.
The family, with the exception of the uncle, moved to Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, in autumn 2011 when the father began a job there overseeing the construction of a liquid natural gas plant. The uncle lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.