UK investigates Nigeria al-Qaida kidnap claim

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2011 9:52 AM
UK investigates Nigeria al-Qaida kidnap claim

British authorities said Thursday they were investigating a video claiming an al-Qaida group now holds a British and Italian man kidnapped from northern Nigeria in May.

The one-minute video, distributed by the French news agency Agence France-Presse, shows the two men kneeling in front of three masked men holding a heavy machine gun and two Kalashnikov rifles. The two hostages, both blindfolded, ask authorities to comply with their kidnappers' demands.

The Associated Press could not confirm the authenticity of the video, which AFP said it received at its bureau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. AFP blurred the faces of the two hostages, though one could be seen wearing a Manchester United soccer jersey.

The British Foreign Office released a statement Thursday saying it remained in close contact with Nigerian and Italian authorities.

"We are working to secure the hostages' safe and swift release," the statement read. "We ask those holding the two men to show compassion and release them, enabling them to rejoin their families."

In a statement, Italy's Foreign Ministry identified the kidnapped Italian as Franco Lamolinara. The statement said "intense diplomatic efforts" were under way to free the two men.

Police said the two construction workers were kidnapped May 12 from an apartment in Kebbi state, which borders Niger. Such kidnappings are rare in northern Nigeria, though foreign workers in the country's oil-rich southern delta fall prey to criminal gangs and militants wanting sizable ransoms. It remains unclear if kidnappers have made any ransom demands.

The men in the video identified their kidnappers as belonging to al-Qaida, but offered no other details. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African affiliate of the terror group, has its roots in an extremist group in Algeria that brokered an alliance with al-Qaida in 2006. It has since kidnapped more than a dozen Europeans including tourists and aid workers. The group is believed to be using the ransom payments to bankroll their operations and with each kidnapping their tactics have become more bold.

The group operates in West Africa and the northern deserts and capital of Niger. However, it would be the first time the group involved itself in an operation in northern Nigeria, though it has paid other groups to take their Western hostages. Western diplomats have feared the group would spread into Nigeria's Muslim north, where dissatisfied masses live in poverty as politicians reap the wealth of Africa's most populous nation.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP