It is time to put an end to Africa’s kidnapping epidemic — a crime that is being used to bankroll terrorism.
In a recent three-day period terrorists and pirates in Nigeria kidnapped 20 foreigners and are holding them for ransom.
That brings to 24 the number of foreigners taken hostage in Africa this year, not including the attempted snatch of 138 foreigners and hundreds of local workers at the In Amena gas wells in Algeria last month. At least 44 hostages have been killed this year, including 39 at In Amena.
The new hostages join more than 40 Europeans, Americans and other foreigners kidnapped in Africa over the past 5 years who are still being held for ransom.
The usual practice of most European nations in dealing with the African kidnappings has been to pay ransom. It is estimated that in the past decade major European nations have paid more than $130 million to kidnappers.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group responsible for the In Amena raid and connected to the Benghazi murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, is reported to have taken in $90 million to bankroll its effort to take over northern Africa, beginning with Mali, where the French military is attempting to dislodge them.
Far less common is the kind of rescue operation carried out in Somalia on Jan. 25 when U.S. Special Forces rescued three hostages and killed nine captors.
The freed hostages included Jessica Buchanan, 32, an American citizen and Poul Thisted, 60, a Dane who been held since Oct. 25, when they were kidnapped from a Danish aid mission in Somalia.
In that instance, the captors are thought to have been pirates operating in the area.
Other Nigerian kidnappings, however, have been the work of radical Islamic jihadists. They include the seizure on Feb. 18 of a French family of four children and three adults in neighboring Cameroon by Nigerian terrorists.
On Feb. 20, six foreign oil workers were seized by pirates aboard a ship in Nigerian waters. On Feb. 17, seven foreign workers had also been kidnapped in northern Nigeria by the same jihadist group.
The kidnapped children, boys ages five, eight, 10 and 12, are a first, as France’s President Francois Hollande pointed out in denouncing the “odious” seizure, saying ,“This is the first time that children have been taken hostage in this manner.”
The jihadist kidnappers may be seeking leverage to get the French to withdraw from Mali.
With the seizure of the family, African kidnappers now hold 20 French hostages as well as 15 Americans.
But the French government says it will hold firm. and has special forces to search for the victims.
“We must do the maximum, but nothing would be worse than yielding … to terrorist groups,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
He added, “Countries, like us, who believe in freedom must unite to battle against these terrorist groups.”
International cooperation has greatly reduced the risk of piracy off Africa’s east coast.
Now it is time for similar cooperation in ending kidnapping for ransom in the rest of Africa.