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Sky’s defence and security editor Sam Kiley explains how the raid happened
1:01am UK, Saturday March 10, 2012
A spokesman for Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has denied it was responsible for the kidnapping and killing of a Briton and Italian during a failed rescue operation.
Engineers Chris McManus and Francesco Molinara were found dead in Sokoto in the northwest of the country after British and Nigerian special forces launched an attempt to free them.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and security sources blamed Boko Haram, which has waged a violent campaign of gun and explosives attacks mainly in the country’s northeast, for the kidnapping.
But Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa told reporters in a conference call: “We have never been involved in hostage-taking and it’s not part of our style, and we never ask for ransom.
“We know how to settle our scores with anybody. Therefore the allegation that the kidnappers were members of our group is ridiculous.”
Bullet holes on the walls of the compound where the hostages were killed
Prime Minister David Cameron made the decision to attempt a rescue after intelligence suggested the hostages were in imminent danger of being moved or killed.
According to Sky sources, this emerged after the arrest of a Boko Haram leader.
“On Tuesday, the security agencies were able to arrest the factional leader of Boko Haram, Abu Mohammed and four members of the sect,” the source said.
“These five suspects… later showed the security agencies the compound where the hostages were holed up. But they also raised concern that the hostages might be killed unless security agencies quickly moved into the compound to free them.”
Sky News understands that a group of six to eight members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) conducted the assault in a densely built up area of Sokoto.
They could not use helicopters because they would have alerted the kidnappers but were carried to the scene in secret in Nigerian vehicles.
The hostages were taken in Birnin-Kebbi and killed in Sokoto, while the Boko Haram leader was arrested in Kaduna province
The operation to free the hostages began when a Nigerian armoured personnel carrier rammed its way into the building where they were being held.
The SBS then killed two of the kidnappers. Nigerian sources said another six were killed by their forces, possibly while trying to escape a cordon thrown up around the scene.
The Italian government has demanded an explanation from British authorities as to why it was not informed about the rescue attempt until it was under way.
Sources also said that members of the gang under arrest admitted that it was backed by al Qaeda, which has been growing in influence in northern Nigeria over the last year.
More than 300 Nigerians have been killed, mostly by groups allied to Boko Haram in the last 12 months. The movement is known to have had training in neighbouring Niger from al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
It showed that it is capable of launching complex military attacks on multiple targets earlier this year in Kano when over 180 people were killed in a number of raids on government buildings and police stations.
While the rescue attempt was being planned, sources said, the kidnappers “suspected that something was wrong when for two days their leader, Abu Mohammed and four others did not return to the compound”.
Nigerian sources said that they suspected that the hostages were killed to pre-empt an attack on the compound by security forces.