Nigerian raid strains UK-Italy relations
ROME / LONDONItalian President Giorgio Napolitano led a chorus of condemnation on March 9 over Britain’s failure to inform the Italian government before launching a botched rescue mission with Nigerian forces, which led to the deaths of British and Italian hostages held by a militant Islamist group.
Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara, who were kidnapped in May while working for a construction company in northwest Nigeria, were killed by their captors during the raid, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on March 8. Napolitano told reporters: “The behavior of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable […] A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Italy had been informed only after the raid, against a compound in the town of Sokoto, had already begun. Monti called a meeting on March 9 with his senior security ministers and a representative of the secret service.
A parliamentary committee has said it will also open a probe. The British ambassador in Rome visited the Italian Foreign Ministry “on his own accord” on the evening of March 8, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said, without giving further details.
In Britain there have been attempts to play down the spat.
A Downing Street spokesman said Britain had been in close contact with the Italian government since the kidnapping last May. Rome was contacted as the operation got underway, he told Reuters. “The fact of the matter is that things were moving quite quickly on the ground and we had to respond to that, and our top priority was to maximize the chances of getting the hostages out.”
Asked whether Italian authorities had given prior approval to a rescue operation, the spokesman said: “When the prime minister [Cameron] phoned Mario Monti, the operation had happened. We knew the hostages were dead.” Those responsible for the killings have been arrested, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Jonathan said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported.