British Prime Minister David Cameron, said on Thurday that a British and an Italian held hostage in Nigeria by a faction of the terrorist group Boko Haram with al-Qaeda contacts were killed before they could be rescued by special forces.
The men, Chris McManus (British) and Franco Lamolinara (Italian), were taken captive in May. They were working on a bank construction project in Nigeria. McManus was working with a construction company B. Stabilini, when gunmen broke into his apartment in Birnin-Kebbi and kidnapped him on May 12. Reuters reports a German colleague escaped by scaling the wall, but a Nigerian engineer was shot and wounded.
According to Reuters, a video of the hostages was released in the Nigerian capital Abuja in May (see video above). The video showed the men blindfolded and on their knees. Three men wearing turbans and holding guns and ammunition stood behind them.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said months after the men went missing, U.K. authorities received from Nigerian security agents "credible information about their location," that indicated the men's lives were in "imminent and growing danger." According to Cameron: "The terrorists holding the two hostages made very clear threats to take their lives, including in a video that was posted on the Internet."
AP reports the British authorities say the kidnappers appear to be from an al-Quaeda-linked cell within Boko Haram, but not within the main Boko Haram faction.
Cameron said that after receiving reports that the men's lives were in "imminent and growing danger," he authorized a joint rescue mission with the Nigerians that failed.
Reuters reports Cameron said: "Preparations were made to mount an operation to attempt to rescue Chris and Franco. Together with the Nigerian government, today 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. We are still awaiting confirmation of the details."
The Guardian reports that British Special Boat Service (SBS), a unit specially trained for counter-terrorist operations, carried out the rescue attempt backed by Nigerian security forces. A British source said: "The operation was based on good intelligence – the location was right."
The SBS unit, according to The Guardian, moved in when intelligence indicated a "window of opportunity." The British authorities described the kidnappers as the "nastiest al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists there are."
The British and Nigerian authorities gave apparently conflicting accounts of how the men died. AP reports the British said the men were killed by their captors while a Nigerian official said they died in the crossfire during the rescue attempt. According to AP, Cameron said, "...the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors, before they could be rescued."
Reuters corroborates the AP report that a senior security official in Nigeria said the hostages apparently died in the crossfire.
The Nigerian official said the failed rescue attempt took place in Sokoto, in Nigeria's northwest. Reuters reports that an AP reporter said security agents attacked a house in the city of Sokoto and gunfire was heard for much of the afternoon into Thursday night.
The AP reporter said he saw an ambulance carrying wounded people away from the scene of the fighting, but he was unable to get close enough to see what was happening because security forces cordoned off the area and did not allow journalists within a half mile of the site.
According to Reuters, the Nigerian President Gooodluck Jonathan has condemned the killing of the hostages. He said in a statement that "the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested, would be made to face the full wrath of the law."
McManus's family, in a statement, said they were devastated by the news of the death of Chris, and said: "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."
British hostage Christopher McManus was killed alongside Italian Franco Lamolinara
The Italian government said it was informed about the rescue attempt only after it had begun and that Cameron called the Italian Prime Minster Mario Monti to inform him of the failure of the operation.
The mayor of Gattinara, the Italian town near Turin where Lamolinara lived with his family, said a day of mourning would be proclaimed. The mayor said that for nearly a year the residents of the town followed the directives of the Italian Foreign Ministry not to talk about the kidnapping in the hope that an arrangement would be concluded to rescue Lamolinara.
The Guardian reports that Cameron thanked the Nigerian authorities for giving support: "I want to take this opportunity to thank the Nigerian authorities, and President [Goodluck] Jonathan personally, for all they have done to help find Chris, and combat terrorism. I also want to pay tribute to all those, including UK personnel, who worked so hard to try to bring Chris home safely. I am very sorry that this ended so tragically."
Niger Delta militant groups in the southern Nigeria have kidnapped and held foreigners hostage in the past but the deaths of the two hostages are the first cases of a Boko Haram cell holding and killing foreigners in the northern part of the country. The recent incident lends credence to the claim that there is a cell within the Boko Haram sect that has contacts with al-Qaeda-linked terror groups in north Africa.