Boko Haram denies killing hostages as UK, Italy relations boil

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On March 10, 2012 · In News

By Uduma Kalu &  Abdallah el-Kurebe with agency report
Diplomatic relations between Nigeria, Britain and Italy may be strained following the botched rescue operation to free two hostages, a Briton,  Chris McManus and an Italian, Franco Lamolinara  at the Mabera area of Sokoto State, Northwest of Nigeria Thursday.

While Italy is furious with Britain for not informing it before the rescue operation, the Italian President  has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to furnish him with detailed information on what actually happened.

This development is coming even as the Boko Haram Islamic sect, accused of the crime has denied any involvement in the kidnap and killing of the hostages.

The group in a message forwarded to the media electronically yesterday afternoon said that it does not engage in such acts of kidnapping.


David Cameron says: ‘Indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors

Boko Haram’s alleged spokesman, Abul Qaqa said, “following the failed rescue attempt by Nigerian/British intelligence agencies yesterday, Boko Haram has strongly refuted speculation that his group was behind the hostage- taking.
“We have never been involved in such acts of kidnapping. It is a known fact that the group has not denied any act it have been involved in.’’

Meanwhile, Nigerian authorities have detained five members of Boko Haram allegedly suspected  to have been involved in kidnapping and killing of the two Europeans.The suspects included the ringleader of the kidnappers, whose name was given as Abu Mohammed, according to sources at the State Security Service, SSS.

The SSS source said security forces arrested two of the conspirators on Tuesday, including Abu Mohammed, near Sokoto, on the basis of an intelligence tip-off.

It was said that the two suspects led security agents to the compound at Mabera, where th Nigerian and British forces mounted a joint raid two days later. The source said three kidnappers were taken alive from inside the house while the others were killed. He said a splinter group of the Islamist group Boko Haram, with links to al Qaeda’s north African wing, was behind the kidnapping.

The large compound where the hostages had been held was riddled with bullet holes and completely unguarded yesterday when Saturday Vanguard visited the place. There were few people wandering in and out of the house.

”After all the gunfire, I saw soldiers bring out five dead bodies from the house. Two were white, three were black,” said Murtala Naboro Tsafe, whose house is directly opposite the compound.
He added that later at about 6.30 pm, “soldiers marched three people out of the house who were still alive.

’’We never suspected what was going on in the house. There were people going in and out of the house every day, but we never saw any white man,” said Tsafe.

Resident Sani Tukur also said: “I never noticed anything suspicious around the compound as it looked totally empty, the only person I saw around is the watchman.”

Yesterday’s denial is expected to add the diplomatic row brewing between Italy and Britan over the failed  rescue attempt.

The diplomatic row began when Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, yesterday criticised Britain’s “inexplicable behaviour” after the UK launched the failed operation without telling Rome before hand.

Napolitano  demanded a political and diplomatic explanation following the Special Forces rescue mission in which British engineer Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara were killed.

President Goodluck Jonathan said the pair’s “killers” have been arrested and identified as members of the Islamist group Boko Haram. Monti said he had requested from the Nigerian president a “detailed reconstruction” of what went wrong.
David Cameron had given the order for the operation in the city of Sokoto to go ahead without informing the Italians first. The Prime Minister said: “We had reason to believe that their (the hostages) lives were under imminent and growing danger.” UK said by the time Cameron telephoned Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti, the hostages were already dead, adding that this did not mean there was no contact between Italian and British authorities in advance of this.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Our priority was to respond to the situation on the ground and to do everything we could to try and secure the safe release of the hostages.

”The advice from the people on the ground was that it was important to act and to act quickly.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the Italian authorities were “notified about what was going on.
“They did know that the operation was under way and judgments had to be made. Sadly the outcome, of course, was not the one that we were hoping for but nobody has ever pretended that rescuing hostages from armed kidnappers is a risk-free business.”

An urgent meeting of Italy’s parliamentary safety and security committee was called by Mr Monti.
There was a constant flurry of calls between the British Embassy in Rome and London as diplomats kept the government informed.

Insiders said Mr Monti was “furious” at having been kept out of the loop and wanted to know from Britain why Italy was not consulted about the operation before it started.

Monti was informed by Mr Cameron as he flew back to Rome from a visit to Belgrade and once he landed at the city’s Ciampino airport he did not leave his official plane for two hours as it became an unofficial ‘war office’.

Monti revealed the lack of prior warning in a statement in which he said UK and Nigerian authorities had determined the operation was the “last window of opportunity to save the hostages’ lives”.

The attempt to free McManus, who comes from northwest England, and Lamolinara also involved members of the Nigerian army.

Italian Senator Giuseppe Esposito, deputy chief of the security and safety committee, posted a message on Facebook saying they had been treated as “schoolboys by Nigerian and British intelligence”.

Cameron said the hostages appeared to have died at the hands of their captors, although it was not clear when.

Sky sources said it is believed there was a fight and during the assault the UK and Nigerian forces could not get to McManus and Lamolinara in time.

”It strongly appears that the hostage-takers shot the hostages,” the sources said. Napolitano told reporters: “The behaviour of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable. A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary.”

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Cameron said Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara were captured in Birnin-Kebbi, in the north of Nigeria, in May last year.

His words, “After months of not knowing where they were being held, we received credible information about their location. A window of opportunity arose to secure their release.

”Together with the Nigerian government, I authorised it to go ahead, with UK support. It is with great regret that I have to say that both Chris and Franco have lost their lives.”

In a statement, Mr McManus’ family said they were “devastated” by the news.

“During this ordeal we have relied heavily on the support of our family and friends which has never waned and has enabled us to get through the most difficult of times.

”We are also aware of the many people who were working to try and have Chris returned to our family, and his girlfriend. We would like to thank all of them for their efforts.

”We knew Chris was in an extremely dangerous situation. However, we knew that everything that could be done was being done.”  McManus and  Lamolinara – contract workers for the Italian construction firm B Stabilini – were seized by gunmen who stormed their apartment.

Meanwhile, Mabera,  Sokoto State where two the Europeans were killed was calm yesterday even as it was learnt that the deceased white men died  in the cross fire resulting from the five- hour gun duel between Nigeria/British rescuers and the kidnappers.

Saturday Vanguard gathered that the gun battle started around 12noon when the security team opened fire on the residential building, where the captors hid and lasted till about 5.30pm.

Though the main area was condoned off by security personnel, during the attack, Saturday Vanguard was informed that there were heavy casualties on both sides during the failed rescue operation.

Efforts to contact the SSS Director in Sokoto State failed but the spokesperson of the Sokoto state Police Command, Mr Al-Mustapha Sani however said that the operation was jointly carried out by the Army and the SSS.

”The operation was carried out by the SSS and the Army operatives. The Police has however fortified security in the whole state with our officers and men,” Sani said.

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