Nigeria's secret police said Wednesday that the two European hostages who were earlier believed to be killed during a failed rescue operation last week were actually executed by their captors even before the rescue raid was launched.
State Security Services (SSS) spokesman Doyin Adetuberu said at a press conference held in capital Abuja that the two Europeans, British national Chris McManus and Italian citizen Franco Lamolinara, were abducted by members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect.
Adetuberu said the suspected mastermind of the kidnapping, who has been identified as Abu Mohammed, was arrested along with five other suspects in a raid carried out on March 7, a day before the failed rescue operation was launched.
The spokesman added that Abu Mohammed died while under police custody on March 9, succumbing to the injuries suffered during the raid that led to his capture from a house in Zaria in central Kaduna state.
Adetuberu said one of Abu Mohammed's associates had managed to evade capture during the raid at Zaria. He also expressed doubts that the escaped militant might have informed those holding the two European hostages that a rescue raid was imminent, prompting them to execute the hostages.
"Apparently acting on the directive of the member of the sect who escaped from Zaria, the guards murdered the hostages before the arrival of security forces," Adetuberu said.
The five men arrested along with Abu Mohammed in the March 7 raid were paraded before reporters during Wednesday's press conference. They stood quietly as they were presented to journalists. Although some of them had injuries on their faces, the police did not comment on how the men suffered the injuries.
It was initially believed that McManus and Lamolinara were killed during the joint rescue attempt launched by British and Nigerian forces on March 8. British Prime Minister David Cameron said last Thursday that the two were "murdered by their captors before they could be rescued" in the joint military operation.
The two deceased men were working as engineers for B Stabilini, an Italian construction firm based in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, when they were abducted by unidentified gunmen from their lodgings in the northwestern Nigerian city of Birnin Kebbi on May 12, 2011.
The failed rescue operation has triggered a diplomatic row between Britain and Italy over the failure of the British and Nigerian governments to inform Rome before launching the botched mission.
The Boko Haram sect, accused of involvement in the abduction and subsequent killing of the two Europeans, is based in the mainly Muslim north and campaigns against Western education, which it considers as anti-Islamic. The sect wants strict enforcement of Islamic laws in Nigeria after overthrowing the current government.
The outfit came into prominence in July 2009, when hundreds of its members were killed in fighting with Nigerian security forces in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri. An estimated 1,000 people have been killed since the terror organization began its campaign of violence in 2009.
by RTT Staff Writer
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