Nigerian leader takes blame for hostage deaths

Responsibility is shared – but President insists that held men were about to be moved from country

Kim Sengupta
Saturday 17 March 2012 01:00 GMT

The President of Nigeria has said he bore some of the responsibility for the deaths of two hostages killed when his troops, alongside British special forces, attempting to rescue them. However, Goodluck Jonathan insisted it was vital to mount the operation because the captives were about to be taken out of the country by the Islamist group holding them.

The mission, ordered by David Cameron, involved members of the Special Boat Service storming the kidnappers hideout in the city of Sokoto. The men being held, Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara, were both shot dead.

Rome accused the UK of not informing them before taking military action. Mario Monti's government announced an inquiry would be carried out to ascertain what went wrong.

It was also claimed in Italy that negotiations were under way to pay the abductors a ransom for Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara to be freed and progress was being made when the failed attack took place.

President Jonathan said yesterday: "We worked with the international intelligence system. If there was success, there would have been a collective glory. Since we did not quite succeed, well, we all take responsibility. So I cannot say I will not take part of that responsibility: yes, I do. I'm the president of the country."

He stressed that the decision was taken to launch the operations after telephone intercepts suggested the two men were about to be moved out of the country. Boko Haram, the fundamentalist group to which the kidnappers belonged, are believed to have strong ties with al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb, which had murdered a number of Western hostages.

Speaking to CNN, Mr Jonathan said "I am not aware of any demand for a ransom, or of any ransom payment having been made. In this particular case, no family member informed security agencies that they (the captors) had reached out to them for a ransom. This is not something we know about."

The location where the hostages were being kept was discovered after the arrest of a number of Boko Haram militants. Nigerian authorities disclosed yesterday that the alleged ringleader of the kidnap plot, Abu Mohammed, had died of gunshot wounds sustained when he was being captured.

Five men detained at the same time as Abu Mohammed were paraded in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, with swollen faces. A police spokesman said: "These men will soon go on trial. The information we gained from them when they were found in Zaria, in the Kaduna State, led to the two [European] prisoners. We have strong evidence to convict these men of the crime they have committed."

Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara, both engineers, were abducted from their apartment in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, on 12 May, 2011.

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