Kidnappers stabbed a captive German engineer to death Thursday as soldiers unaware of the hostage's presence raided a home in northern Nigeria, officials said, five months after his abduction by proclaimed al-Qaida-linked terrorists.
The killing of Edgar Fritz Raupach came as authorities acknowledged the kidnapping of an Italian working for a construction company, part of an increasing number of abductions targeting expatriates working in Nigeria's north and central regions.
Soldiers launched a raid Thursday morning in Kano, the northern city where gunmen abducted Raupach on Jan. 26 following a major terrorist attack there that killed at least 185 people. The mission targeted a home that soldiers suspected held "an ongoing meeting of senior commanders of the terrorist element," military spokesman Lt. Iweah Ikedichi said in a statement.
"On sighting the security forces, the terrorist element opened fire and threw (explosives)," the statement read. "The security forces responded immediately, resulting in a gun battle that lasted for about 30 minutes."
Soldiers killed five suspected terrorists in the firefight, Ikedichi said. It was only later while searching the house that soldiers discovered Raupach's handcuffed corpse, he said.
A security official who later spoke to The Associated Press said the kidnappers stabbed Raupach to death and tried to escape. The official spoke on condition of anonymity since the information was not to be made public.
In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the ministry could not confirm that the hostage was killed, and that the ministry's crisis unit and the German Embassy in Abuja were trying to gather more information. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department rules.
Gunmen kidnapped Raupach from a construction site in Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city, where he worked for Dantata & Sawoe Construction Co. Ltd. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb released a statement in March claiming they had Raupach, as well as a video showing him disheveled and asking in German and English for his country to help win his freedom.
The group, known by the acronym AQIM, demanded that German officials release Filiz Gelowicz, a German woman convicted last year of supporting a foreign terrorist network. Gelowicz's husband was among a group convicted of plotting unsuccessfully to attack U.S. soldiers and citizens in Germany.
German officials released Gelowicz from prison in late April on probation after she served two-thirds of her sentence. In May, an unsigned advertisement appeared in The Daily Trust, the newspaper of record in Nigeria's north, showing a photograph of Raupach and messages in Arabic and English calling for him to be released.
"Your sister Uma Saifullah Al-Ansariya (Filiz Gelowicz) is free since two weeks," the advertisement read. "When do you release our brother Edgar? His friends are waiting for him."
AQIM had not carried out operations previously in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely between a Muslim north and a Christian south. However, security officials and diplomats say AQIM has loose links with a group known as Boko Haram, a locally focused Islamist sect that wants to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria.
Boko Haram began its terror campaign with gun attacks from the backs of motorcycles. Last year, it started escalating its assaults with a string of suicide bombings targeting churches, government buildings, and even the United Nations headquarters in the capital Abuja. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for the January attacks in Kano.
Meanwhile, Nigeria's federal police began grappling Thursday with the kidnapping of another expatriate. In central Kwara state, unidentified gunmen on Monday abducted an Italian working on a road project for the Turin, Italy-based construction firm Borini & Prono, local police spokesman Olufemi Fabode said.
Italy's Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping, but declined to give any details.
"Police have taken control of the investigation and the investigation is in high gear," Fabode said. "Hopefully, something will be done as every instrument has been put into place."
Fabode declined to say whether a ransom demand had been made.
Nigeria's arid north and central plains long have been quiet places where Chinese, Lebanese, Indian and other expatriate workers opened businesses and took part in construction projects. Many viewed the area as far safer than the country's oil-rich southern delta, where kidnappers routinely target foreign workers.
Now, however, a new wave of attacks have targeted workers in the once-safe region. In May, gunmen in Kaduna state shot and killed a Lebanese and a Nigerian construction worker, while kidnapping another Lebanese employee. Gunmen who authorities say have links to Boko Haram also kidnapped an Italian and a British man last year in northern Kebbi state. The sect later denied taking part in the abduction.
Those two hostages were killed during a botched rescue operation in March by British and Nigerian forces in northwestern Nigeria. Raupach's death bares similarities to that operation, something Nigerian authorities declined to immediately discuss.
Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria, and can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.
Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; David Rising in Berlin and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.