Nigeria grills kidnappers of slain British, Italian hostages

AFP , Saturday 10 Mar 2012

Nigerian security interrogate eight suspects over the killing of two European engineers amid a row between Italy and Britain over the incident

Residents gather at the scene where Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara were killed by their captors on the edge of the Nigerian city of Sokoto, March 9, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Nigeria on Saturday interrogated suspected kidnappers of two Europeans killed during a botched British-Nigerian rescue operation amid a row between Italy and Britain over the incident.

Italian engineer Francesco Molinara, 48, and his British colleague Chris McManus, 28, were believed to have been shot by their captors before they could be rescued in the assault authorised by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday.

Nigerian security sources told AFP eight suspects had been flown to the nation's capital Abuja and had confessed to killing the two Westerners in the northern town of Sokoto during a Nigerian-British military operation to free them after almost a year in captivity.

"Those that were arrested in connection with the incident were brought to the SSS (secret police) headquarters, Abuja yesterday," a security source said.

"In the course of interrogation one of them said they killed the two guys on sighting the security men because they were not sure they, too, will survive the attack," he said.

Another security source said: "They are being interrogated to have a complete picture of the whole episode and they are providing useful information."

Italy has condemned Britain's failure to warn it ahead of the failed rescue operation, but London said it had been forced by the situation to act swiftly.

"The behaviour of the British government, which did not inform or consult with Italy on the operation that it was planning, really is inexplicable," President Giorgio Napolitano told reporters on Friday.

"There needs to be a political and diplomatic clarification," he said.

At an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Copenhagen later Friday, Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata said he made Italy's feelings clear during talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

"I asked for detailed information because we have a right to maximum clarity on this episode," Italy's foreign minister said.

Cameron said the two hostages had been held by "terrorists" who had made "very clear threats to take their lives", and the captives had been in "imminent and growing danger".

Both countries have however agreed to cooperate on the issue.

AFP received a video showing McManus and Lamolinara in August. In the footage, both men said their kidnappers were from Al-Qaeda.

In a second video received by a Mauritanian news agency and seen by AFP in December, gunmen threatened to execute McManus if their demands were not met. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the kidnappers were from the Islamist Boko Haram sect, blamed for scores of gun and bomb attacks mainly in the country's northeast in recent months.

But the radical sect denied the claim on Friday.

"We are not behind the hostage taking ... which led to the military operation yesterday in Sokoto in which the hostages were killed," the group's spokesman Abul Qaqa said in a conference call with reporters.

Nigeria's government "had better get its facts straight and find the true identity of the kidnappers," Qaqa added.

Diplomats have said some Boko Haram members have sought training abroad, but there had not been evidence of operational links with foreign groups.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has in recent years claimed kidnappings of expatriate workers in countries including Niger, which borders Nigeria to the north, but never in Nigeria. Sokoto state borders Niger.

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