Protesters march in in front of the Nigerian Embassy in
Washington in support of the girls kidnapped by members of
Boko Haram. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
France says it is boosting intelligence ties with Nigeria
and sending security service agents there to tackle Boko Haram
after more than 200 girls were kidnapped by the Islamist group.
President Francois Hollande's office said after he spoke by
telephone with Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan that Paris
would dispatch a specialised team in the coming hours to
Abuja to help find the girls.
With more than 4,000 troops operating between Mali to the
west and Central African Republic to the east, Paris has a
major interest in preventing Nigeria's security from
deteriorating and has voiced concern Boko Haram could spread
north into the Sahel.
Having ousted al Qaeda-linked militants from Mali last year,
France is planning to redeploy its forces across West Africa
this summer to target Islamist groups taking advantage of
porous borders between southern Libya, northern Chad and
"The president expressed his desire to increase intelligence
cooperation with Nigeria, involving all regional countries,
so that this terrorist group can no longer carry out such
acts," a statement on the telephone conversation said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told
lawmakers: "In the face of such ignominy, France must react.
This crime cannot be left unpunished."
Around 10 experts from the external DGSE intelligence service
with satellite observation knowledge would first be sent to
join United States and British teams, official sources said.
Demanding an Islamic state, Boko Haram has been fighting in
the northeast for the past five years. It attracted global
attention last month with the abduction of girls taking exams
in the village of Chibok, also in the south of Borno state.
Underscoring how far Nigerian security forces are from
protecting civilians in a region, the group launched an
attack that killed at least 125 people, police said on
Wednesday after gunmen rampaged through a town in the
northeast, near the Cameroon border.
Hollande, during a February trip to Abuja, promised to help
fight them, saying Nigeria's struggle was also that of
"This may be the catalyst the international community needs
to fight Boko Haram," a French diplomat said.
French interests have already been targeted by Boko Haram.
Last November, the group kidnapped a French priest and held
him for a month. Earlier last year, in mid-February, they
snatched a French family of seven on holiday in northern
Cameroon and held them for two months.
Hollande at the time denied a ransom had been paid for the
family, but a confidential Nigerian government report seen by
Reuters said Boko Haram was given the equivalent of $3.15
million by French and Cameroonian negotiators.
The kidnappings were among a series of attacks on French
targets in West Africa since France launched a military
intervention in Mali in January 2013 to oust al Qaeda
Islamists who had forged links with Boko Haram.
Nigeria has complained that the far northern region of
Cameroon is being used by Boko Haram militants to transport
weapons and hide from a six-month military offensive against
them. It has appealed to Cameroon to tighten border security.
Officials in Niger, where France has based surveillance
drones, have also voiced concern about infiltration by Boko
Haram across the country's southern border.
"We're already at the forefront of the fight against
terrorists in the Sahel and with borders so easy to cross
these groups are linked," the diplomat said. "We have
knowledge in neighbouring countries that can help."