Suspected Boko Haram fighters from Nigeria have kidnapped around 80 people, many of them children, and killed three others in a cross-border attack in Cameroon.
Soldiers were unable to stop the villagers, including an estimated 50 girls and boys, being abducted from villages in the north of the country in the early hours of Sunday morning. Their homes were raided and burned by militants.
There are fears the children could be used as suicide bombers in further attacks, a Cameroonian minister told Radio 4's Today programme.
“According to our initial information, around 30 adults, most of them herders, and 50 young girls and boys aged between 10 and 15 years were abducted,” a senior army officer deployed to the area told Reuters.
He said the attack had targeted the village of Mabass among others along the border. Soldiers intervened and exchanged fire with the raiders for around two hours.
Three people were killed and 80 homes were burned down, a government spokesperson said, calling some of the kidnapped children "very young".
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was one of the largest abductions the country has seen, but Boko Haram appears to be expanding its bloody campaign to wage an Islamic state in northern Nigeria with assaults on Cameroon and Niger.
A video released earlier this month claims to show the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatening to target Cameroon unless it "embraces Islam".
Addressing President Paul Biya, he says: "I advise you to desist from following your constitution and democracy, which is un-Islamic.
"The only language of peace is to repent and follow Allah, but if you do not then we will communicate it to you through the language of violence."
Neighbouring Chad has been deploying troops to support Cameroon's forces in the area as security is increased across the region leading up to Nigeria's presidential election on 14 February.
According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009. These abductions have intensified since May 2013, when Nigeria imposed a state of emergency in areas of the country where the group is most active.
Earlier this month, at least 150 people were killed and more than 3,700 buildings destroyed in a massacre in Baga.
Faced with increased violence along the border, Cameroon's government has deployed thousands of additional troops, including elite soldiers, near its northern border.
A convoy of troops from Chad arrived in Maroua, the main town in its Far-North Region, to support the fight against Boko Haram, late on Saturday.
Chad has a reputation as one of the region's best militaries and helped French forces drive al-Qaeda-linked Islamists from northern Mali in 2013. Government officials in N'Djamena say the deployment to Cameroon includes around 2,000 soldiers, armoured vehicles and attack helicopters.
Ghana's President John Mahama, who currently heads West African group ECOWAS, told Reuters on Friday that regional leaders will seek approval from the African Union next week to create a new force to fight Boko Haram.
Additional reporting by ReutersReuse content