COTONOU, Benin (AP) — Two French tourists are feared kidnapped in the West African nation of Benin after they failed to return from a game drive in a wildlife reserve near the northern border with Burkina Faso, authorities said Sunday.
Their disappearance has raised fears they could have been abducted by Islamic extremists who have become increasingly active over the border in Burkina Faso. There are fears that the militants could be infiltrating northern Benin and Togo as well.
The French tourists were last seen with their driver on Wednesday when they went into the Pendjari National Park, according to the organization that oversees the reserve in the country’s north.
Two days later the body of an African man who had been fatally shot was found in the park, Interior Minister Sacca Lafia said.
Authorities believe the victim may be the tourists’ driver, according to another government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack authorization to speak to journalists.
The French government is in contact with the tourists’ families but would not release their identities for security reasons, a French Foreign Ministry official said.
The French government is following the situation closely, according to a French foreign ministry official who spoke Sunday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be publicly named.
Authorities in Benin have been increasing concern that the growing instability in neighboring Burkina Faso could spread.
“We’re trying to secure our borders so that we don’t get any of these members of armed groups in our country,” Army Chief of Staff Col. Fructueux Gbaguidi said just a week ago.
Pendjari National Park makes up part of a vast wildlife area that stretches across Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. The entire area is home to most of the remaining West African lion population.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.