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Hostages killed in Nigeria before rescuers reach them

March 8, 2012 | 11:10 am

Briton Chris McManus

This story has been updated. See the note below.

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A Briton and an Italian who were kidnapped by suspected terrorists in Nigeria were killed by their abductors before a rescue operation could reach them Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Cameron said that, together with the Nigerian government, he had authorized a joint mission to try to rescue Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, both of whom worked for an Italian construction firm doing business in Nigeria. The two men were kidnapped from their residences last May in northwest Nigeria.

"After months of not knowing where they were being held, we received credible information about their location. A window of opportunity arose to try and secure their release. We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger," Cameron said. "Preparations were made to mount an operation to rescue Chris and Franco. ... It is with great regret I have to say that both Chris and Franco have lost their lives."

Details of what happened were still sketchy, but "the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors before they could be rescued," Cameron said, adding: "I am very sorry that this ended so tragically."

It was not immediately clear whether they were killed during the rescue operation or before. [Updated March 8, 1:05 p.m.: The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Nigerian official as saying the men were killed in the crossfire during the operation, but the information could not be confirmed late Thursday.

The news service also quoted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan saying that “the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested, would be made to face the full wrath of the law.” Jonathan did not specify how many people had been arrested or exactly what roles they had in the kidnapping and killing of McManus and Lamolinara.]

Cameron did not identify the group suspected of orchestrating the abduction. The BBC reported that the kidnapping was probably carried out by members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, some of whose adherents are believed to be linked to Al Qaeda.

A video of McManus and Lamolinara -- who appeared blindfolded with their captors standing behind them, faces covered -- was circulated after their abduction. It was unclear what demands, if any, were being made for their release.

McManus' family issued a statement through Britain's Foreign Office saying that they were devastated by their loss.

"We knew Chris was in an extremely dangerous situation," the family said. "However, we knew that everything that could be done was being done" to secure his release.

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-- Henry Chu

Photo: Briton Chris McManus. McManus and Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara, who were taken hostage in northern Nigeria last year, were killed by their captors before they could be rescued in a military operation Thursday, Britain's prime minister said. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.

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