Sat, Mar 10, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Italy seethes over failed rescue bid in Nigeria in which hostages were killed

AFP, LONDON and KANO, NIGERIA

About a hundred troops, military trucks and a helicopter were deployed in a failed hostage rescue bid in Nigeria in which an Italian and Briton were killed, witnesses said yesterday.

As Italy seethed over how it had been kept in the dark about Thursday’s deadly raid in the northwestern city of Sokoto, witnesses said the captors and the security forces waged a gunbattle lasting seven hours.

At least two hostage-takers were killed in the operation, along with British national Chris McManus and Italy’s Franco Lamolinara, they added.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan blamed the deaths of the hostages on members of the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has waged a violence campaign mainly in the northeast of the country. He said the killers had been arrested.

Meanwhile, the British government said yesterday it had informed Italy of an attempt to rescue the two hostages as the doomed bid was getting under way, but did not have the time to forewarn Rome.

“We contacted the Italians yesterday [Thursday] as the operation was getting under way, but this was a very fast-moving situation,” British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said in London.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti convened a security committee meeting yesterday over Britain’s failure to consult Rome before approving the rescue bid.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was quoted as saying that the failure to inform Rome about the bid was “inexplicable.”

While officials gave few details about the operation or those involved, newspapers in London said that it had included members of the British elite forces Special Boat Service (SBS) who had been in Nigeria for a fortnight.

A resident who lives directly opposite the house where the two Europeans were killed said at least 100 soldiers were involved in the operation.

They came in three trucks and blocked the entrance to the house.

The kidnappers apparently tried to flee the troops by scaling a wall into a next-door house which was still under construction, before then engaging them in an intense gunbattle, the witness said on condition of anonymity.

“After the shootout had been going on for about seven hours, the soldiers gained access into the house. Initially they brought out two dead bodies I believe to be white men, followed by two bodies of dark-skinned people I believe to be among the gunmen,” the witness said.

The witness reported seeing three men taken out of the house in handcuffs.

British and Nigerian authorities had been concerned from the start that the kidnappers were Islamist extremists, as they had ignored a large amount of cash that the men had stored in the apartment where they were abducted, according to British media.

Cameron said the bid to rescue the men had been authorized after “a window of opportunity arose to secure their release.”

British media said that Nigerian intelligence officials had tracked the group to Sokoto.

GCHQ, Britain’s intelligence listening center, identified and monitored the telephone calls made and received by the gang.

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