Nigeria vows to capture killers of aid worker couple

Nigerian police (pictured February 2019) were doing "everything possible" to secure the safe release of the three kidnap victims (AFP Photo/Luis TATO)

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's government vowed Tuesday to track down gunmen who stormed a luxury hotel and murdered two aid workers, a British woman and a Nigerian man, before abducting three other people.

"The security agencies will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to apprehend the killers and bring them to justice," the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said.

Police were doing "everything possible" to secure the safe release of the three kidnap victims, he added. The hostages are understood to be staff at the hotel.

Gunmen burst into the Kajuru Castle resort late on Friday night, spraying bullets as people relaxed at the top-end hotel over the Easter weekend holiday.

The luxury resort, built on a hilltop and resembling a medieval fort, is in Kaduna state, some 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Faye Mooney, a British aid worker employed by Mercy Corps, and Matthew Oguche, a Nigerian working for the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO), were both shot dead.

The pair were reportedly inside the hotel when the gunmen opened fire, and fled the building at the sound of gunshots.

"They rushed out of the room in panic," one local resident said. "As they descended down the open staircase, the gunmen took aim and shot them. This was why they were the only ones killed."

Mooney had been based in Nigeria for nearly two years, working on a programme to help countering hate speech and violence. Oguche helped train aid workers on staying safe in dangerous areas.

-'Brave and dedicated' -

Both organisations paid tribute to the murdered pair. Mercy Corps called Mooney "dedicated and passionate", and said her colleagues were "utterly heartbroken".

INSO said that Oguche was "a kind, intelligent and outward looking young man with a passion for learning, and a deep commitment to helping others."

The UN aid chief in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, mourned the "brave and dedicated aid workers" in a message of condolence.

"This horrific tragedy has left the entire humanitarian community in mourning," Kallon said.

In Kaduna and the wider northwest region, kidnapping for ransom has become rampant.

Local residents claimed the kidnappers had made extortionate cash demands for the three hostages, but Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo said he was "not aware" of ransom demands.

Kidnapping in Nigeria's oil-rich south, has long been a security challenge, where wealthy locals and expatriate workers are often abducted.

Yet the problem has escalated in northern areas too, like Kaduna, where criminal gangs made up of former cattle rustlers have been pushed into kidnapping after military crackdowns on cattle theft.