Sunday, March 11, 2012

Boko Haram Denies Killing Briton, Italian in Nigeria

Boko Haram Denies Killing Briton, Italian
Saturday, 10 March 2012 00:00
By Godwin Ijediogor (Lagos) and Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri) News
Nigerian Guardian

• JTF Arrests Three Suspected Sect Members In Borno, Recovers Rifles, Ammunitions, Bomb-Making Materials • Italy Angry At Britain Over Botched Nigeria Raid

AS outrage continued yesterday over the killing of two foreign hostages—Chris McManus a Briton and Franco Lamolinara an Italian, the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram has denied committing the act.

A spokesman for the sect, claiming to be Abul Qaqa, in a telephone interview with reporters in Maiduguri yesterday, said: “We have always claimed responsibilities for the operations we undertake, but we are not responsible for the killing of the said foreigners in Sokoto on Thursday.”

Boko Haram’s denial came as Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano accused Britain of an “inexplicable” failure to consult with his country before a bungled attempt to rescue the late hostages, who had been working on a bank construction project before they were kidnapped in May last year.

Their captors presumably killed them before a joint British-Nigerian operation could free them, leading to heavy criticism of Britain and accusations by Italian politicians that Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government of technocrats is inept in foreign affairs.

Journalists in Sokoto, on hearing sounds of heavy guns, had gone round trying to ascertain what was going on.

At the police headquarters, they were told it was not a police, but a State Security Service (SSS) operation.

But at the office of the SSS, they were told to check back later and the situation became clearer much later in the evening when the news of the killing of the hostages was revealled.

Some foreign news agencies reported that blood spatter coated the walls around the front door of the house where the hostages were kept, with large-calibre bullet holes punched through the concrete walls.

Residents said they believed the two hostages were killed in a back bedroom.

The residents also believed the attack lasted about nine hours, with heavy gunfire, and that the military also used an armoured personnel carrier to attempt to storm the compound through an unfinished house behind it.

Unconfirmed report said some arrests had been made in connection with the killings, but life was normal in Sokoto yesterday, as residents went about their usual businesses.

With most relevant government officials either outside Nigeria or outside the federal capital, all was also quiet in Abuja yesterday as the diplomatic row broke out between Britain and Italy.

As at press time, even the president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and his entourage were still in Makurdi, Benue state where they were spending their second day on a state visit.

There was no statement beyond the Thursday’s on the killing in Sokoto. The President of the Senate, David Mark, a retired Brigadier General, too was in Benue state with the President. Coincidentally, Spokesperson for the Senate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, Abia, was still in Switzerland last night where he and other federal legislators had gone for an International Parliamentary Summit.

Curiously, too, ,the Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin and the Spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters were still in Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast where they had gone to attend Chiefs of Defence Staff Summit. No word therefore from Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters that organised the Joint Rescue Operation that has sparked off diplomatic row between the two Western nations.

The Guardian could not reach even the spokesperson for the House of Representatives Hon Zakari Mohammed on phone last night. There was no response when a call was put through to his mobile telephone.

As at the time of report also, there was also no response from the State Security Service on the development in Sokoto where a joint secret rescue operation reportedly failed.

For its part, the Police Headquarters said the Police Command in Sokoto would address a press conference yesterday to state the role of Police in the diplomatic rumble.

British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, held talks with his Italian counterpart over the failed rescue attempt at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Copenhagen, while Britain’s ambassador was meeting with officials in Rome.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, said Italian Premier Mario Monti had not complained over the circumstances of the operation in a telephone call on Thursday with the British leader.

He also insisted that Monti and the previous Italian government had not raised objections to the possibility of mounting a rescue mission during talks over the last nine months.

Hague confirmed that the Italian government was informed about the rescue attempt by Britain on Thursday, once the operation was already under way.

“We had to make a decision very quickly to go ahead with this operation; we had very limited time. That constrained how much we were able to consult others,” Hague said at the meeting in Denmark.

“We were able to inform the Italian government as the operation got under way, but not to do more than that. But I think everybody understands the constraints involved, the rapid timing involved in a case like this,” he said.

A number of arrests made by Nigerian authorities in recent days had provided more concrete information on the whereabouts of those being held captive, but had also alerted the kidnappers that authorities were on their trail.

Field said: “The situation became clear in recent days,” referring to the arrests.

“The window of opportunity reflected the fact that we had information about where the hostages were being held,” he said.

The presence of British Special Forces on the ground meant the UK was able to get a more accurate picture, but also raised the risk that the kidnappers would become aware of the planned rescue mission.

British officials said those involved in the operation feared the captors had become aware that the “net was closing” in on their location.

“Their very strong advice was that it was important to act, and to act quickly and that offered the best chance of getting those people out,” he stated.

The Italian government has so far been unable to win the release of two Italians in an anti-piracy corps held by India for the deaths of two Indian fishermen.

Meanwhile, three suspected Boko Haram members were yesterday arrested by the Joint Task Force (JTF), which also recovered eight Kalashnikov rifles and bomb-making materials in Dala ward of Maiduguri metropolis of Borno State.

Displaying the recovered rifles and ammunition at the JTF headquarters in Maiduguri, spokesman of the task force, Lt. Col Hassan Mohammed, said following operations in Dala ward, they were able to arrest three suspected Boko Haram members, adding that many rifles and ammunition were equally recovered from them.

He said besides the recovery of rifles, other bomb-making materials were also recovered from the suspects after an operations carried out by the soldiers.

Mohammed listed the recovered rifles to include eight AK 47 rifles and 457 live ammunition, 12 blank Nato and pistol ammunition, with 18 magazines and three magazine carriers.

Other items were two bags of bomb power and other detonating and activating bomb materials.

He said the operations would continue until the suspects, along with their arms and ammunition, are smoked out from the Maiduguri metropolis to ensure security and peace in the state.

Qaqa said: “We are not aware of the arrests of our members by the JTF in Dala ward of Maiduguri.”

He, however, claimed responsibility for the Konduga attacks and killings, burning of secondary and primary schools in Maiduguri; and the attacks on a police station and bank at Ashaka in Gombe State, including the Comptroller of Customs for Borno and Yobe states, Adamu Ahmadu of Potiskum.

He also threatened three media houses and their reporters in the country for “writing reports and other features on our group that are not true, but opinionated to suit either government or security agents or both.”

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