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  • on 09.03.2012
  • at 01:21 PM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Briton, Italian killed in a failed rescue mission in Sokoto 0

After over eight hours of sustained gun duel between a combined team of State Security Service (SSS) operatives and men of the Nigerian army, versus gunmen suspected to be members of the deadly Islamic sect, Boko Haram, in Mabera area of Sokoto metropolis, a Briton, Chris McManus and an Italian, Franco Lamorina were among the casualties that were recorded.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron confirmed their death in a statement yesterday. Sokoto is the seat of the Caliphate.

The two foreigners who were construction workers were said to have been kidnapped since May last year. The combined team of the State security operatives was therefore aimed at rescuing the foreigners after it took almost a year to locate where they were held hostage by their captors.

Condemning the killing of the foreigners, President Jonathan described it as “sad, unfortunate and regrettable”. He commended the co-operation of Britain and Italy on the incident, vowing that the “perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested” will be prosecuted and made to “face the full wrath of the law”.

It was not clear when and how the foreigners were killed, but they are suspected to have been killed by their captors before help could reach them. Some months ago, the captors had threatened to kill them if the demands of the Boko Haram sect were not met.

Gradually but steadily, like a cancerous affliction, the Boko Haram menace is spreading through the entire north. The North West zone which had seemingly appeared spared from the deadly attacks of the sect is becoming susceptible and a new haven for the members of the killer Islamic sect.

Narrating the events leading to the killing, Cameron in a statement from the British High Commission in Anuja, noted that “Chris McManus, a British citizen, was taken hostage by terrorists in Northern Nigeria in May 2011. He was taken hostage with his colleague, an Italian national, Franco Lamolinara.

Since then, we have been working closely with the Nigerian authorities to try to find Chris and Franco, and to secure their release. The terrorists holding the two hostages made very clear threats to take their lives, including in a video that was posted on the internet.”

The Prime Minister explained that, “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.”

Italian Premier Mario Monti said Cameron had conveyed the news to him by telephone, saying in a statement that Nigerian and British authorities had determined the operation was the “last window of opportunity to save the hostages’ lives.”

The statement said the situation on the ground had accelerated recently, posing an “imminent danger to the lives of the hostages.”

Cameron added that, “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, but the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors, before they could be rescued.”

The Italians were only informed once the operation was under way, according to the statement.

Noting that details of their murder was still sketchy, Cameron stated, “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.”

According to him, the Foreign Office has been in regular contact with the family of McManus since his capture.

“I spoke to them just before Christmas and I have spoken to them again with the news this afternoon. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Nigerian authorities, and President 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. I ask that the media respect the family’s privacy and allow them time to come to terms with their loss,” he added.

THISDAY checks revealed that the security operatives invaded the gunmen’s hideout at Mabera area Thursday morning, following a tip off in order to arrest them.

However, in an attempt to effect the arrest, the gunmen engaged the security operatives in a gun duel that lasted several hours till 6.00 pm.

Unconfirmed reports revealed that there were casualties on both sides during the gun battle.

An AP reporter at the scene saw an ambulance ferrying the wounded, but could not get close to see who was inside. Security forces had a cordon up blocking journalists from getting within a kilometer of the site.

Police and local authorities in Sokoto have said the military operation in Sokoto was a hostage rescue, but they did not say who the operation was aimed at rescuing.

It was rather an unusual commotion in Sokoto. And the people were taken unawares. But unwilling to take chances, THISDAY learnt that banks hurriedly closed as a result of the incident to avert any attack.

Efforts made by THISDAY to get the Sokoto State SSS Director, Alhaji Jibril Danmalam on phone proved abortive.

But Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Al-Mustapha Sani, who confirmed the incident to THISDAY, said the operation was purely an SSS affair.

“We have nothing to do with the operation. It was purely the affair of SSS and soldiers,” Sani stated.

He said the police command has taken adequate measures to forestall further attacks.

Nigeria State Security Service (SSS) spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar, declined to comment immediately, while the army spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Already, the main road leading to Mabera area has been cordoned off by soldiers.

Last year, the French news agency Agence France-Presse distributed a video of McManus and Lamolinara. The men appeared to be in good health despite months of captivity.

The kidnappers had claimed in the video they belonged to al-Qaida.

U.K. officials had asked journalists not to publicise the video, in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the two men if their demands weren’t met.

By Mohammed Aminu , Chinwe Okafor and Sunday Okobi with agency reports – Thisdayonline

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