Kidnapped Briton & Italian killed in Nigeria by terrorists as rescue raid fails
A British construction worker and his Italian colleague were murdered by suspected terrorists in north-west Nigeria as UK special forces, supported by the Nigerian army, attempted to rescue them in a bloody operation given the green light by David Cameron.
A grave-looking prime minister announced the death of Chris McManus, 28, and the 47-year-old engineer Franco Lamolinara, who were working for an Italian building company, saying he had authorised the operation in the wake of credible information that their lives were in imminent danger.
The two men had been held hostage since last May and the rescue had been recommended by UK intelligence following meetings of the government’s emergency committee, Cobra.
Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, was informed of the operation in the increasingly lawless north-west of Nigeria only once it had started, apparently because of the need to move quickly.
Cameron said it appeared the two men were murdered by their captors before special forces could break through the perimeter buildings in which they had been held. The operation may have taken place in Sokoto, a quiet city that has been a home for members of the Boko Haram sect.
A Nigerian official said intelligence leading to the location of the captives came after the Nigerian secret service raided a Boko Haram hideout in the state of Kaduna. That yielded information that the two hostages were being held in Sokoto. The hostage-takers retaliated shortly afterwards by murdering both men, according to the source.
Nigerian security agents have been receiving intelligence training from western nations with years of experience in handling terrorism, including the United States and the UK.
Military sources say the training would normally start to show results within 18 to 24 months, about the time since foreign countries began technical assistance to tackle Boko Haram.
A group known as “al-Qaida in the land beyond the Sahel” claimed in December that it had captured McManus. The group released a video showing a blindfolded and bearded man in an orange vest. Three men in dark clothing stood behind him armed with rifles and a machete.
A statement on behalf of the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, commended the “co-operation and understanding of the British and Italian governments” and assured that “the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested”, would be made to face “the full wrath of the law”.
The operation was led by the Special Boat Squadron, including some Royal Marines, with as many as 20 UK forces personnel involved.
An SBS unit tried to free the men “after a window of opportunity presented itself”, said an official familiar with the incident. A Whitehall source described the men’s captors as among the “nastiest al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists there are”.
Cameron said: “Our immediate thoughts must be with Chris and Franco’s families, and we offer them our sincerest condolences. Both families have endured a terrible ordeal, and this is a devastating moment for all of them.”
He explained: “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.
“We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger. 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.”
He said the early information suggested that the men had been murdered before the rescue operation could be mounted. He had personally conveyed to the family the news of their son’s death.
“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,” Cameron said.
“Terrorism and appalling crimes such as these are a scourge on our world. No one should be in any doubt about our determination to fight and to defeat them.”
Local reports suggested that the military surrounded a house in the city and there had been sounds of gunfire for much of the afternoon.
Gunfire continued into the night as the military fought with those in Sokoto. Ambulances ferried the wounded. Security forces erected a cordon blocking journalists from getting within a kilometre of the site.
Cameron visited Nigeria last July, months after the hostage capture, and will have discussed the issue with Jonathan. No briefing was given on the hostage position at the time to the journalists accompanying the prime minister, a sign of the extent to which the Foreign Office hoped McManus could be freed without publicity.
McManus’s family said in a statement: “We are of course devastated by the news of Chris’s death, which we received earlier today. 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.
“Our thoughts are also of course with the loved ones of Chris’s colleague, Franco Lamolinara, who are also coming to terms with this truly sad news.
“We now need time to grieve and come to terms with our loss. We would therefore be grateful if you would respect our privacy at this most difficult of times.”
Lamolinara had worked in Africa for many years, but returned to Italy 10 years ago before undertaking a further job with an Italian company, Stabilini Visinoni, based in Nigeria. He was said to have been captured on the last day of his contract. The men had been involved in building the central bank in Birnin Kebbi, capital of Kebbi state.
Monti took the phone call from Cameron on a plane trip back to Rome from Belgrade. Monti said: “An unpredicted acceleration of events took place over the last hours. While fearing an imminent danger for the hostages, Nigerian authorities activated the rescue.”
However some Italian MPs later called for clarification about why the country’s authorities were not informed earlier.
“It would seem that, despite the presence of an Italian who had been in the hands of kidnappers for a long time, our country was told only after the blitz,” said MP Rosa Calipari.
She said questions should be asked about why Italian authorities and intelligence officers in Nigeria were not involved in the decision to go ahead with the operation.
Meanwhile stunned family and friends in Lamolinara’s home town of Gattinara, in the northern region of Piedmont, prepared to declare a day of mourning.
“It was a shock,” mayor Daniele Baglione told the Italian news agency ANSA. “We had faith. We didn’t expect it.
“Franco was well-known and loved in town,” Balglione said. “It is a loss for our community.”
Lamolinara leaves behind a wife and two children, an 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.