13th March, 2012
The Nigerian kidnappers of two European hostages killed in a botched rescue mission were probably aware beforehand that their security had been breached, Britain’s defence minister said Tuesday.
British engineer Chris McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara were shot dead by their captors on Thursday as scores of British and Nigerian special forces troops stormed a compound in Sokoto, northwest Nigeria.
“The assessment on the ground was that there was a significant possibility that the kidnappers, if present, were already aware that their security had been compromised,” British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament.
“If they were not, that the level of military activity in the town meant that there was a real risk of developing that awareness,” he said.
In spite of this, Nigerian and British forces judged that “while an immediate rescue attempt would inevitably involve risk, it represented the best chance of securing the release of Chris and Franco alive,” Hammond added.
The failed mission authorized by British Prime Minister David Cameron sparked a diplomatic row between London and Rome, which complained that it was not consulted about the operation beforehand.
Hammond said British and Italian security services were in regular contact after the engineers were taken hostage in May, but that Britain had ultimately not required Italian permission for the operation.
“We did not agree that the Italians would have any power of veto over a rescue operation involving a British citizen, Hammond said.
“But of course we consulted with the Italians throughout this ten-month period and they were well aware of the direction in which the operation was moving.”
Hammond also denied reports that the kidnappers had been negotiating a ransom for the hostages.
“UK policy is clear — we do not pay ransoms to terrorists,” he said. “We are not aware of any ransom having been paid or indeed any ransom having been demanded.”
Confusion remains over who was responsible for the kidnapping, and the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, blamed for scores of deadly attacks in recent months, has denied responsibility.