Failed hostage rescue provokes row

Failed hostage rescue provokes row

Chris McManus was killed during an attempted rescue mission in Nigeria

David Cameron offered his 'sincerest condolences' to the families of the hostages

First published in National News © by

The fallout from the failed hostage rescue bid in Nigeria is continuing after William Hague insisted it had been impossible to inform the Italian authorities in advance.

The Foreign Secretary said there had been a "limited opportunity" for saving the two construction workers, whose lives had been in "imminent and growing danger". Briton Chris McManus and Italian co-worker Franco Lamolinara died on Thursday as Nigerian troops and UK Special Boat Service commandos tried to end their nine months in captivity.

The bid to rescue the men was apparently brought forward because the kidnappers - believed to be members of a jihadi group associated with al Qaida - became aware that the net was closing around them. There were reports of a fierce firefight after the house in the north-western town of Sokoto was surrounded.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano said it was "inexplicable" that Downing Street had not alerted Rome to the plan in advance. "The behaviour of the British Government in not informing Italy is inexplicable," he said. "A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary."

And diplomat Antonio Puri Purini said the events had been an "unacceptable slap in the face" for his countrymen. Writing in the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he claimed Britain's nostalgia for its imperialist days had led it to act alone.

However, Number 10 said contacts had taken place between the governments as the operation got under way, and David Cameron spoke to Italian prime minister Mario Monti by phone after it was learned that the hostages were dead.

"We had been in contact with the Italians on a regular basis over the past nine months," the spokesman said. "An option was always a rescue operation. We have been keeping them informed throughout. Things moved quite quickly in recent days and we had to respond to that. The Prime Minister was asked for authorisation and gave that authorisation, but this was a Nigerian-led operation."

The governments later tried to cool tensions in a joint statement issued after Mr Hague met Italian counterpart Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata at a wider gathering in Copenhagen.

It said the UK minister "made clear that there had been a limited opportunity to secure the release of the two hostages whose lives were in imminent and growing danger". "Under these circumstances it was only possible to inform Italy once the operation was already getting under way," the statement added.

Mr Lamolinara's body was flown in an Italian Air Force jet to Rome's Ciampino military airport, where officers stood to attention as a mark of respect. The body was to be taken to a morgue for autopsy.

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