Cameroonian army frees dozens of its citizens after cross-border attack by Boko Haram

Sunday's kidnapping, one of the largest on Cameroon soil, signifies the Islamist group is expanding its reach to neighbouring countries

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The Independent Online

Cameroon has freed 24 of some 80 hostages kidnapped during a cross-border attack by suspected Boko Haram Islamist fighters based in neighbouring Nigeria, a defence ministry spokesman has said.

The kidnapping, which occurred in the north of Cameroon on Sunday around the village of Mabass, was one of the largest abductions on Cameroonian soil.

Many children, up to 50, were among the hostages. “The Cameroon army was able to free about 24 hostages taken yesterday by Boko Haram in the far north. They were freed as defence forces pursued the attackers who were heading back to Nigeria,” said ministry spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds in its bid to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

In recent months, it has targeted Cameroon and Niger as it seeks to expand its zone of operations.

At the weekend, neighbouring Chad deployed troops to help Cameroon in its efforts to tackle the insurgency in the area. In an attack that gained worldwide attention last year, Boko Haram fighters kidnapped around 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, in north-eastern Nigeria.

It has stepped up attacks in the region as Africa’s biggest economy prepares for a presidential election next month.

In a video posted online this month, a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to step up violence in Cameroon unless it scraps its constitution and embraces Islam.

A convoy of about 2,000 troops backed by armoured vehicles and attack helicopters from Chad arrived in Maroua, the main town in Cameroon’s Far North region, Cameroon’s defence ministry said yesterday.

Chad is reputed to have the best armed forces in the region and helped French forces drive al-Qaeda-linked Islamists from northern Mali in 2013.