9 Mar 2012

Italy criticises Britain over hostage rescue attempt

After British and Italian hostages die in Nigeria during an attempted rescue mission, the Italian president says his country should have been informed before the mission was carried out.

Hostage Chris McManus was killed during the raid

The operation to free Chris McManus and Italian hostage Franco Lamolinara, who also died, was launched by Nigerian forces with UK assistance.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the pair appeared to have died at the hands of their captors, either before, or during the course of, the rescue bid.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said: The behaviour of the British government, which did not inform or consult with Italy on the operation that it was planning, really is inexplicable.”

The rescue operation was launched after the UK received credible information about the men’s whereabouts and that their lives were under increasing threat, a spokeswoman said.

Mr McManus was taken hostage by terrorists in northern Nigeria in May 2011 with his italian colleague.

A statement from Mr Cameron said the UK government have been working closely with the Nigerian authorities to try to find the two men and to secure their release.

Italian criticisms

But Mr Cameron has come in for criticism after it emerged that Italian authorities were not notifed about the covert operation until it was under way.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Nigera, said: “I don’t know how fast moving this was but it does seem odd that an ally like Italy was not actually kept informed and it is important that we find out what happened and that the Prime Minister explains to the Italians.”

‘Growing danger’

Mr Cameron said action had to be taken quickly because after months of not knowing where they were being held, credible information was received about the location of the hostages:

“The terrorists holding the two hostages made very clear threats to take their lives, including a video that was posted on the internet. A window of opportunity arose to secure their release. We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger.”

Mr Cameron and the Nigerian government authorised the rescue operation, which went ahead today.

But the prime minister confirmed that both men had lost their lives.

“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,” Mr Cameron said.

“Our immediate thoughts must be with Chris and Franco’s families, and we offer them our sincerest condolences.”

“I also want to pay tribute to all those, including UK personnel, who worked so hard to try to bring Chris home safely. I am very sorry that this ended so tragically,” he added.

Requesting privacy, Mr McManus’ family, who live in Oldham, said in a statement: “As a family, we are of course devastated by the news of Chris’ death which we received earlier today. During this ordeal we have relied heavily on the support of our family and friends which has never waned and has enabled us to get through the most difficult of times.

We are also aware of the many people who were working to try and have Chris returned to our family, and his girlfriend. We would like to thank all of them for their efforts.”

Mr Cameron has called Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to inform him of the “tragic conclusion” of the operation, a statement said.