March 14, 2012 – Britain yesterday pledged to step up its backing for Nigeria in the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of the House of Commons while recounting how the raid to rescue a Briton and an Italian held hostage in Sokoto State was carried out.
He spoke of how the British Special Forces that joined Nigerian security personnel killed one of the hostage takers.
Three other captors, he said, were killed by Nigerian forces. One Nigerian soldier was wounded in the operation.
Hammond said: “This was a difficult operation that it was judged had to be carried out at speed, in view of the risks to the lives of Chris and Franco.
“The deaths of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara were a terrible tragedy but let us be clear, the responsibility for their deaths lies squarely with the people who kidnapped them, held them, threatened them and then murdered them in cold blood.
“Terrorism and kidnapping can never be justified. Many of the groups responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Chris and Franco, including their senior leaders, are either dead or have been detained – an important achievement in reducing the threat of future kidnapping.
“But violent, extremist Islamist groups remain active in Nigeria and so long as they are, we will work with the Nigerian and other allies to fight the scourge of terrorism wherever it manifests itself.”
Boko Haram has carried on with its bloody mission, killing three policemen, one soldier and four others in Kano and Mubi, Adamawa State.
The Kano attack occurred yesterday. The killings in Adamawa took place on Monday night.
McManus and Limolinara were employees of a construction firm. They were abducted from a construction site in Birni Kebbi in May last year and taken to Sokoto. They were killed last Thursday following the storming of the hideout where they were kept by their captors.
Hammond said the British Government supported Nigerian troops in the attempted rescue of McManus and Lamolinara after receiving credible information of their location and “imminent and escalating” threats to their lives.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy endorsed the decision to launch the raid last Thursday.
Hammond said: “The assessment on the ground was there was a significant possibility the kidnappers, if present, were already aware their security had been compromised and if they were not, the level of military activity in the town meant there was a real risk of them developing that awareness.
“The military judgment was that the hostages were facing an imminent and escalating threat and while an immediate rescue attempt would inevitably involve risk, it represented the best chance of securing the release of Chris and Franco alive.”
Hammond said British Prime Minister David Cameron gave the go-ahead for British involvement in the assault after a briefing by military and national security advisers.
He told MPs the operation lasted about 90 minutes but that the bodies of the two hostages were found by the troops in a room at the rear of the compound.
The Defence Secretary added: “The early indications are clear both men were murdered by their captors with automatic gun fire before they could be rescued.”
Hammond told MPs a coroner’s inquest into the death of Mr McManus would be held.
He said it continued to be the policy of the British Government not to pay ransoms to terrorist groups who take hostages.
Hammond said it had become clear following the kidnap that it was being carried out by the terrorist group Boko Haram and clear demands had not been issued.
He said the kidnappers made some direct contacts with Mr McManus’s family.
“But at no time during their captivity did the kidnappers make any coherent demands.”
Hammond said the British and Nigerian Government worked closely together to try and establish where the hostages were being held.
He said on a visit to Nigeria in July 2011, Mr Cameron agreed a package of support from Britain for Nigeria’s counter-terrorism efforts with President Goodluck Jonathan.
Hammond said: “As part of that package, a sustained operation was conducted to identify members of the group responsible for the kidnapping.
“Earlier last week, a number of them were apprehended and during de-briefing late on March 7, credible intelligence was obtained identifying the probable location of the hostages at a house or compound in Sokoto, northern Nigeria.”
Hammond said Foreign Secretary William Hague then briefed Mr Cameron that evening before chairing a Cobra meeting on the new information the following morning at 8.15am. A further full briefing was then relayed to the Prime Minister.
“The location was confirmed and the Nigerian military took up position on the ground and an assault group, including UK support, was put in place.
“Following a further briefing, the Prime Minister gave authorisation to the rescue attempt, which began at 10.58am London time.
“The UK’s ambassador in Rome informed the Italian government an operation was beginning as soon as possible afterwards,” Hammond said.