A British construction worker is believed to be among seven foreigners kidnapped in a raid by suspected Islamic extremists on a compound in northern Nigeria.
The Foreign Office was investigating reports from the country that a group of men armed with guns and explosives attacked the camp and snatched the British man along with co-workers from Greece, Italy and Lebanon.
Local officials said the gunmen first attacked a prison and set fire to two police vehicles before attacking the camp of the Lebanese construction company Setraco in Jama’are, a town in a rural part of Bauchi state. The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to the state, north-east of the capital Abuja.
The gunmen shot dead a guard at the camp before snatching the foreign workers in the biggest kidnapping in a region that has been under attack from Islamic extremists.
The construction company described itself as one of the largest operating in Nigeria, specialising in road and bridge building.
The Foreign Office said it was in touch with officials in Nigeria about the possible seizure of a British national. Authorities in Italy confirmed the kidnapping of an Italian man and its Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi, said his safety must be given “absolute priority”.
Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north has been under attack by the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram, in a campaign which saw nearly 800 people killed in 2012 alone.
The group has called for Sharia law to be implemented across the country and for its militants being held by the Nigerian authorities to be released.
Boko Haram primarily launches attacks against Nigerians but has also targeted bars and restaurants used by expatriates and foreign travellers. It was responsible for the 2011 car bomb attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja that left 23 people dead.
In Nigeria’s oil-rich south, foreigners have long been a target for kidnap gangs which demand ransoms for their safe return.
Fears of abductions of foreigners in the north have increased following the French intervention in Mali to counter a surge by Islamist fighters. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Jama’are compound, but other foreigners have recently been the targets of violence.
Briton Chris McManus and an Italian colleague were killed in March last year during a failed rescue operation. They had been working on a bank building project in northern Kebbi state when they were kidnapped.
The rescue attempt followed the release of a video that showed blindfolded hostages standing in front of a row of masked men. Boko Haram later denied any involvement in that kidnapping.
More recently, gunmen attacked a team of North Korean doctors working for a local hospital, stabbing two to death and beheading a third.