LONDON – Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has said it is “inexplicable” that the UK did not inform his government about a failed rescue operation to free an Italian and Briton held hostage in Nigeria.
According to the BBC, Napolitano was quoted in the Italian media on Friday as saying: “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 president has called for a political and diplomatic explanation from the UK.
Construction engineers Franco Lamolinara, 47, and Chris McManus, 28, were kidnapped in the town of Birnin Kebbi in May 2011, while working for Italian firm B Stabilini. Both men died in an attempted rescue bid by UK Special Forces and the Nigerian military on Thursday.
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Italian MPs and commentators are demanding to know why Rome was not consulted before the operation was given the green light by the UK and Nigerian governments. Former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, now president of the parliamentary committee for the security of the republic, said:
“It needs to be clarified why the British authorities decided to launch a military operation without informing us. We will get to the bottom of this,” according to the Agence France Presse.
Italian Senator Lucio Malan told BBC’s Newsnight programme on Thursday “it is quite uncommon that a country that is involved is not informed before [the operation is carried out].”
UK Prime Minister Cameron said the decision to act was made at very short notice, Sky News reports. “A window of opportunity arose to secure their release. We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger.”
Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, hit back against Napolitano's comments, saying: "It isn't inexplicable. It's completely explicable what happened," according to The Daily Telegraph. He said the Italian government was "informed" but didn't specifically "approve" the rescue mission, adding that the operation was launched after intelligence indicated that the hostages were to be moved and killed.
Downing Street also said the UK had been in regular communication with Rome throughout the operation, that the Italian authorities had been informed when the rescue bid was underway, and that Cameron had spoken with his Italian counterpart once the operation had finished.
Both Cameron and Nigerian Prime Minister Goodluck Jonathan say they believe Lamolinara and McManus died at the hands of their kidnappers, reportedly before British and Nigerian forces entered the compound where they were being held captive.
In a statement after the operation, Cameron said: “The early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors.” However, local reports have quoted an unnamed official from Nigerian state security services who said the hostages died in the cross-fire.
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President Jonathan said the kidnappers were from Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect who have been blamed for the deaths of hundreds in bomb and gun attacks in northern Nigeria.
In a statement, the president commended the “cooperation and understanding of the British and Italian governments,” and guaranteed that “the perpetrators of the murderous act, who have all been arrested,” would face “the full wrath of the law, The Guardian reported.
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