British, Italian hostages killed by captors: Cameron
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Britain's Prime Minster David Cameron is pictured during a photocall to promote International Women's Day at 10 Downing Street in London, on March 8, 2012. AFP PhotoA Briton and an Italian taken hostage in northern Nigeria were apparently killed by their captors before the men could be rescued in a military operation Thursday, Britain's prime minister said.
David Cameron said he had given the go-ahead for a rescue after "credible information" had been received about the location of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, who were seized by gunmen in May 2011.
But both men were dead before their would-be rescuers could reach them.
"We are still awaiting confirmation of the details, but the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors, before they could be rescued," Cameron said.
He said the Nigerian authorities, with British support, had launched the attempt to rescue the men after "a window of opportunity arose to secure their release".
"Preparations were made to mount an operation to attempt to rescue Chris and Franco. Together with the Nigerian government, today I authorised it to go ahead, with UK support," he added.
"It is with great regret that I have to say that both Chris and Franco have lost their lives." Cameron gave no indication of whether the men were killed as their would-be rescuers closed in on their location, or whether they had died at an earlier stage.
The two hostages, he said, had been held by "terrorists" who had made "very clear threats to take their lives", and the captives had been in "imminent and growing danger".
AFP received a first video showing McManus and Lamolinara in August. In the footage, both men said their kidnappers were from Al-Qaeda.
In a second video received by a Mauritanian news agency and seen by AFP in December, masked gunmen threatened to execute McManus if their demands were not met.
The Mauritanian agency claimed that the captors belonged to a Nigerian group inspired by Al-Qaeda.
Cameron did not specify the identity of the kidnappers.
Al-Qaeda's north African branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has in recent years claimed kidnappings of foreign workers in Niger, which borders Nigeria to the north, but never in Nigeria itself.
The Italian government also confirmed that the two hostages, who had worked for the Italian construction company Stabilini Visinoni, had died.
McManus's family said in a statement they were "devastated" by the news.
"We knew Chris was in an extremely dangerous situation. However we knew that everything that could be done was being done," they said in a statement.
They also expressed their condolences to Lamolinara's family.
The men were kidnapped by heavily armed men who stormed their apartment in the city of Birnin Kebbi, capital of Kebbi state in northwest Nigeria, near the Niger border.
They had been helping to build a bank in the city.