A French family of seven, including four children, was kidnapped on Tuesday in northern Cameroon, and officials suggested the involvement of one of Nigeria's Islamic extremist sects.
Military helicopters are being used to search for the tourists who were abducted from Cameroon's Far North Region, a Cameroonian government official told The Associated Press.
"The three adult tourists and four children were picked up early today (Tuesday) morning by men riding on motorbikes who rode off toward the border into Nigeria," the Far North Regional Delegate in the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife, Jean-David Ndjigba said from the province's capital of Maroua.
Military and paramilitary gendarmes said the region's Governor Augustin Fonka Awah is in the field accompanying them in the search.
"As I speak to you right now, helicopters are flying over the entire province, and specifically in the administrative area of Waza in search of the kidnapped tourists," Ndjigba said, adding that the vehicle the tourists used has been recovered on the borders flanking Nigeria.
Waza Park, a natural wildlife reserve in the Far North Region attracts mainly foreign tourists. But the area often suffers from raids by bandits lurking in Cameroon, Chad and neighbouring Nigeria, who often abduct locals for ransom.
A Cameroonian trader, who insisted on anonymity because he feared for his safety, said that he was driving back from Nigeria and happened upon the scene. The vehicle of the seven French nationals got stuck in the sand, near the town of Dabanga, 6 kilometres (4 miles) from the Nigerian border. A group of armed men on motorbikes sped up, and forced the Europeans to leave their car at gunpoint, he said.
The hostages were taken away despite a crowd of people who were watching, he said. "Nobody could help the white men because the kidnappers were heavily armed and they threatened to shoot anyone that approached," said the trader.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking during a visit to Greece, warned French citizens in West Africa to avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations. Hollande noted that France is engaged in a military campaign in Mali to rout out jihadists who had taken control of the north. Terrorists, he said, "are not just in Mali."
A total of 15 French citizens are currently being held in western Africa, in addition to the seven kidnapped in Cameroon, there is one other in Nigeria and seven thought to be in northern Mali.