An Islamist group linked to al Qaeda has claimed
responsibility for kidnapping seven foreigners in an attack
in a remote Nigerian town at the weekend, when raiders used
explosives to blast their way into a housing compound in a
hail of gunfire.
Gunmen killed a security guard and abducted a Briton, an
Italian, a Greek and four Lebanese workers after storming the
compound of Lebanese construction firm Setraco in Jama'are in
Bauchi state late on Saturday.
It was the worst case of foreigners being kidnapped in the
mostly Muslim north of Africa's most populous country since
an insurgency by Islamist militants intensified two years
"By Allah's grace (we) have the custody of seven persons,
which include Lebanese and their European counterparts
working with Setraco," read a statement from Ansaru, a group
that has kidnapped other foreigners in Nigeria in the past.
The kidnapping was "based on the transgression and atrocities
done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in
many places such as Afghanistan and Mali," the statement
Three foreigners were killed in two failed rescue attempts
last year after being kidnapped in northern Nigeria and
Ansaru, blamed for those kidnaps, warned this could happen
"Any attempt or act (against us) by European nations or by
the Nigerian Government will lead to (similar) happenings,"
said the group, which has not issued any specific demands.
Attacks by Islamist groups in northern Nigeria have become
the biggest threat to stability in Africa's top oil producer.
Western governments are concerned the Islamists may link up
with groups elsewhere in the region, including al Qaeda's
North African wing AQIM, especially given the conflict in
France intervened in Mali last month as Islamist forces,
which hijacked a rebellion by ethnic Touareg MNLA separatists
to seize control of the north in the confusion following a
military coup in March 2012, pushed south towards the capital
In the Jama'are housing compound, walls were strewn with
bullet holes and empty cartridges lay on the floor as police
searched the deserted Setraco site on Monday, witnesses said.
The remaining foreign workers abandoned their homes and fled
to safer areas in Nigeria.
Islamist fighters first attacked a police station and a
prison, burning vehicles to immobilise security officials,
before striking the compound in a coordinated attack, the
Setraco compound security manager said.
"Some of them attacked the camp from the north side, while
others from the south. They blew holes in the security gates
using explosives," Musa Alhamdu told Reuters.
"There was pandemonium after the gunmen opened fire on the
four policemen attached to the camp, the policemen ran away
as they were overpowered," Alhamdu added.
Ansaru's full name is Jama'atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis
Sudan, which roughly translates as "Vanguards for the
Protection of Muslims in Black Africa".
The group has risen to prominence only in recent months.
It claimed responsibility for a dawn raid on a major police
station in the Nigerian capital last year, where it said
hundreds of prisoners were released. Last month, it attacked
a convoy of Nigerian troops en route to deployment in Mali.
The group said the abduction of the Frenchman last year, who
is still missing, was motivated by France's ban of the
full-face veil and its support for military action against
Islamist insurgents in Mali.
Kidnapping of foreigners for ransom has been common in
Nigeria's southern oil region for a decade but abductions by
radical Islamists in the north only began two years ago.
Britain in November put Ansaru on its official "terrorist
group" list, saying it was aligned with al Qaeda and was
behind the kidnap of a Briton and an Italian killed last year
during a failed rescue attempt.
A German engineer kidnapped in the northern city of Kano in
January last year was killed by his captors in May when
security forces made an attempt to rescue him.
Ansaru is thought to have loose ties to Boko Haram, a
Nigerian Islamic militant group which has killed hundreds
during a three-year-long insurgency focused mostly on the
security forces, religious targets and politicians, rather
President Goodluck Jonathan has said several times in the
last year that the military is winning the battle against
what he calls "terrorism" in northern Nigeria.
Violence is stunting economic development in the north and
risks increasing the divide with the wealthier and largely
Christian south, which is home to the commercial hub Lagos
and Jonathan's home oil-producing Niger Delta region.
The presidency said on Monday security agencies were taking
all the necessary steps to rescue the kidnapped foreigners.
"The President condemns the kidnapping ... and reaffirms the
Government's total commitment to stamping out all forms of
terrorism and criminal abduction," a statement said.