A sect of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram militant group has denied involvement in the kidnapping of a French family of seven in neighboring Cameroon.
Sheik Abu Mohammad Ibn Abdulazeez told reporters on Saturday that the Islamist militant group had been hearing reports suggesting it was linked to the Tuesday kidnappings. He said investigators should "look elsewhere" because it would be a "waste of time" to continue assuming that his sect was involved.
On Tuesday, gunmen on motorbikes kidnapped a couple, their four children and an uncle as they vacationed in a town in northern Cameroon, near the Nigerian border. Investigators believe the kidnappers took the family into Nigeria.
No group has claimed responsibility. However, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he believed Boko Haram was responsible.
The French defense ministry also said the country's involvement in Mali's conflict had given rise to explicit threats against French interests and expatriates.
On Saturday, France warned its citizens in the West African nation of Benin to be on high alert for kidnappings or attacks.
A VOA reporter at Saturday's news conference in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri says the sheik spoke on behalf of Abubakar Shekau, a sect leader. The reporter says Ibn Abdulazeez was accompanied by four other hooded members who declined to identify themselves.
Meanwhile, Nigerian security forces have launched a massive search for the family. On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande said the kidnappers had probably separated the family members into two groups.
He did not specify why he thought the family had been split up.