YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — There is frustration in northern Cameroon after two Italian priests and a nun of Canadian nationality were kidnapped and whisked off to Nigeria by suspected Boko Haram members. The government has deployed heavily armed troops to the area to investigate.
Christians in northern Cameroon held a special Mass after three of their fellow believers were attacked 60 kilometers from the Nigerian area that serves as a base for the Islamist group Boko Haram.
The bishop of the Cameroon diocese, Philip Stephens, said he did not understand why God's servants should be given such treatment.
"I do not understand how two priests and a sister who work for God, who work for the people, and who like the people can be kidnapped. There is no reason, no reason and I am very sad, very sad," said the bishop.
Seminarian Ladde Pierre witnessed the kidnapping and alerted police. He said a group of armed men arrived shortly before midnight last Friday, and ransacked church buildings before seizing the priests and nun.
He said he noticed the priests had been brutalized and their rooms ransacked.
Pierre added that the armed men did not leave only with the clergy.
The kidnappers, he said, wanted to take the vehicle of the Reverend Sister and when it was difficult to start it, they left with a smaller vehicle.
The priests, who are about 50 years old, were identified as Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegre, and the nun as Gilberte Bussier.
Father Marta had been in Cameroon for more than six years while Father Allegre had arrived around a year ago. Seventy-year-old Sister Gilberte has been in Cameroon for nearly four decades and was soon to be evacuated to her native Canada for prolonged ill health.
The priests had been working on improving water supplies and fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Cameroon Minister of Defense Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo went to northern Cameroon and ordered investigators to determine who was responsible for the attack. The local population already blames Boko Haram which has carried out several kidnappings in the region during the past year.
Cameroon military spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck told VOA the attack could have been avoided if the population cooperated with the military.
Administrative and traditional leaders must prepare the people to inform the military in case there is any threat, he said, adding that when someone hears a gun shot, it means he or she is not dead and must take precautionary measures and inform authorities.
The abduction of the clergy members brings to 11 the number of people kidnapped in northern Cameroon since Boko Haram started its activities in Nigeria.
The attacks came after Nigeria asked its neighbors of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to create a task force to handle terrorists, but Cameroon said it would only contribute troops when there is need.
Last month, Cameroon's government denied press allegations its territory is being used as a training ground for rebel activities, and later announced its troops had seized a heavy consignment of arms and ammunition for Boko Haram members in north Cameroon.