Two Lebanese contractors kidnapped by Islamist militants along with five other foreigners in Nigeria were feared dead Sunday night, following admissions from Britain, Italy and Greece that their citizens had likely been killed.
The Ansaru rebel group issued a statement Saturday announcing it had killed all seven foreign hostages taken during a raid on the housing compound of Lebanese-Nigerian construction firm Setraco in the northern Nigeria last month.
The group also reportedly released stills from what the group said is a forthcoming video showing an armed man standing over bodies, but the images could not be immediately authenticated and Nigerian authorities had cast doubt on Ansaru’s claim.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said he could not confirm the deaths of Lebanese nationals Imad al-Andari and Carlos Abu Aziz.
“We are in constant contact with our embassy in Nigeria, which is in contact with the Nigerian authorities and as soon as we have definite information we will make an announcement,” he told The Daily Star.
Andari, who hails from the northern village of Dar Baashtar in Koura, has one son and his wife Nancy is seven months pregnant with the couple’s second child. The family declined to comment on news of Andari’s alleged death.
Initial reports stated four Lebanese were among the seven hostages, which included an Italian, a Greek and a British national, but Setraco CEO Said Khalaf told The Daily Star on Feb. 18 that two of the hostages were Syrian. The Syrian Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment at the time.
If verified, the killing of the Setraco employees would be the deadliest attack on foreigners in that part of the country in recent memory. A police spokesman for Bauchi state, where the kidnapping took place, told Reuters “we really cannot say whether this report is true or not.”
Separately British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the hostages were “likely” dead, condemning what he described as “an act of cold-blooded murder.”
The Italian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the killings “a horrific act of terrorism for which there is no explanation except barbaric and blind violence.”
The Greek Foreign Ministry also said that “available information” suggests the hostages are dead.
In Ansaru’s statement, the group said it had killed the hostages following British and Nigerian attempts to rescue them, an assertion that was refuted by the British government. Ansaru never made clear demands for the release of the hostages, saying only that the attack on the compound was in retaliation for the “transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali.”
Nigeria is home to a large Lebanese expatriate community, many of whom are active in the construction and development industries. Recent years have seen a surge in militant Islamist activities in the impoverished, majority-Muslim, north targeting foreign companies.
Ansaru is short for Jamaatu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladissudan, which translates roughly to “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” According to multiple media reports, the group was relatively unknown until recently, but has been linked to both Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, a prominent Islamist group operating in northern Nigeria.In December, Ansaru claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French national who is still missing. The group has also been implicated in the kidnapping of a German engineer, as well as a Briton and an Italian, all of whom were killed by their captors during attempted rescues.
Some have suggested Ansaru may have been behind the February kidnapping of a French family of seven in Cameroon, but the group has not claimed responsibility. – By Antoine Amrieh, agencies
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