British and Italian Hostage Video – A Briton and an Italian abducted by gunmen in Nigeria last year have died in a failed rescue attempt, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
He said it appeared Chris McManus – from north-west England – and Franco Lamolinara had been “murdered by their captors before they could be rescued”.
British and Italian Hostages Killed in Nigeria
At least one terrorist gunmen was killed in the fire fight with the SBS and two more shot dead as they tried to escape through the rear of the compound. They were hit by Nigerian troops who had formed a circle around the area, closing off the area behind the British troops. In all, eight terrorists were killed.
Details of the operation were relayed to the operational headquarters in Lagos by a Hawker Beechcraft twin turboprop plane flying above Sokoto and passed on in ‘real time’ to Whitehall.
Yesterday evidence of the ferocity of the fighting could be seen on the bullet-riddled whitewashed walls of the sparsely-furnished four-sided compound, built around a courtyard where a small tree had been split by bullets. A number of holes were found in the grounds of the compound, raising the possibility that the hostages were held in them, terrified and in darkness in the baking heat.
The Nigerian authorities said five of the kidnappers were under arrest but refused to go into detail about the failed rescue, which followed an exhaustive operation to pinpoint where the hostages were being held. It began hours after they were taken in May last year from an apartment in Birnin Kebbi, 100 miles from Sokoto.
The urgency increased in December after a video showed the men blindfolded, flanked by gunmen and carrying a warning that time was running out for their demands of the release of prisoners to be met.
The big breakthrough in discovering the hideout came with the arrest in January of 28-year-old Kabirum Sokoto, said to be the Boko Haram leader behind the Christmas-Day bombings in the capital Abuja and two other cities which left at least 44 dead.
Nigerian officials say he provided ‘good-quality information’ on the group’s plans, backers and operatives. Crucially, police also seized three BlackBerry handsets as well as two Nokia and two Samsung mobile phones. They contained a wealth of intelligence, including text messages – some coded – and call logs.
These showed Sokoto had been in touch with suspects in the kidnapping, and monitoring began on more than a dozen telephones to pinpoint where the hostages were being held. GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence service and listening headquarters, was called in to help the Nigerian intelligence service monitor and track calls.
A second arrest of a Boko Haram operative named Abdul Qaqa led to the discovery of the name of the kidnap leader – Abu Mohammed.
According to Nigerian security sources, the hostages were being kept in Sokoto after being regularly moved around safe houses in the region. With the new intelligence an SBS group – the ‘stand-by’ squadron for counter-terrorism – was deployed two weeks ago to Nigeria, travelling in civilian clothes aboard commercial airlines. Weapons, communications equipment and other gear for about 40 UK special forces and Royal Marine Commandos were shipped into the country in British diplomatic bags to the Embassy in Lagos, where the operational headquarters was set up.
As well as intercepted telephone calls and messages, the SBS had access to photographs of the compound where the men were being held and surveillance video of the main house from aircraft flying over the city. Images were sent back to the SBS command post and the monitor screens in the UK.
For 11 days, the SBS men and their Nigerian colleagues watched and listened – and waited for what British officials later called the ‘window of opportunity’.
Their operation took on a new urgency with intercepts of mobile telephone calls showed the terrorists were planning to move and either kill or sell on the hostages to another Al Qaeda-linked faction thought to be operating across the border in Niger.
This was supported by information given following the capture on Tuesday of Abu Mohammed. He is said to have warned that the two construction engineers were in great ‘imminent danger’.
The British specialists favoured a night-time rescue operation but the urgency meant that an ‘emergency response’ plan be put in place. The SBS commander in Lagos briefed his senior officer in London and, after a meeting of the Cobra security committee, David Cameron sanctioned the rescue attempt at 8am on Thursday.
A Whitehall source at the time described the men’s captors as among the ‘nastiest Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists there are’. Within hours, that description was to prove tragically accurate.
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