DAKAR, SENEGAL — In a statement e-mailed to journalists Sunday, a relatively new Islamist sect claims responsibility for the kidnapping of a French engineer earlier this month in northern Nigeria.
Known by its nickname, Ansaru, the group says the Dec. 19 kidnapping of Francis Colump, 63, was in retaliation for France's ban on full-face veils, as well as its recent support for military action in Mali.
The engineer was grabbed on Dec. 19, after thirty gunmen stormed his home in northern Katsina state, killing two Nigerians in the process.
Ansaru's full name in Arabic means "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa."
The group is believed to have ties to the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. Ansaru is also believed to have links to al-Qaida, in particular to its North Africa branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Al-Qaida-linked groups in the Sahel are holding seven other French hostages. The seventh was grabbed in Mali in November.
French President Francois Hollande says France must remain "firm" against terrorism while also "maintaining contacts" to free hostages.
Speaking to reporters on Dec. 21, Hollande said the heavily-armed group that kidnapped Colump is "undoubtedly linked to AQIM or the groups which are today in Mali."
Ansaru burst onto the scene with a written statement distributed in Kano in January, followed by a video posted online in June.
The sect sought to to set itself apart from Boko Haram, saying it disapproved of Boko Haram's methods and its killing of Muslims.
Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram's bloody insurgency against the Nigerian state has killed nearly 3,000 people since 2009.
Ansaru's leader has reportedly said Boko Haram is too focused on attacking Nigerians, and not Westerners, who are the real enemies of Islam.
Ansaru said in its statement Sunday that it kidnapped Colump because of "the stance of the French government and the French people on Islam."
The group pledged more attacks on French citizens until the country changes its policies on the veil and impending military action in Mali.
France has been pushing hard for an internationally backed, regional military intervention in northern Mali, which has been under the control of al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups since April.
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved a phased military deployment to Mali to tackle the political crisis in the capital and ultimately help the Malian army retake the north.
According to Dakar-based Sahel security analyst, Andrew Lebovich, northern Mali has become a troubling jihadist rallying point.
"Possibly a place of training and meeting but northern Mali rhetorically has become much more important for jihadis really since April, and even a bit before, important as a cause and also as a symbol," Lebovich says, "and, as it was referred to in the statement by Ansaru, the Islamic state of northern Mali, this idea that an Islamic state is being put in place."
The British government banned Ansaru as a terrorist group in November, saying it believed the sect was behind the kidnapping of a British and an Italian citizen in May 2011. The two men were killed in March during a failed rescue attempt.