KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Britain's military said Sunday its warplanes recently spotted in Nigeria's capital were there to move soldiers to aid the French intervention in Mali — not to rescue foreign hostages kidnapped by a radical Islamic extremist group.
The extremist group called Ansaru partially blamed the presence of those planes as an excuse for killing seven foreign hostages, including British, Greek, Italian and Lebanese citizens. The Islamic radicals claimed on Saturday that they had killed the seven hostages. While Nigerian authorities have yet to comment publicly about Ansaru's claim, it comes as the nation's security forces remain unable to stop the guerrilla campaign of bombings, shootings and kidnappings across the country's north.
Ansaru said it killed the hostages in part due to local Nigerian journalists reporting on the arrival of British military aircraft to Bauchi, the northern state where the abductions occurred. However, the online statement from Ansaru said the airplanes were spotted at the international airport in Abuja, the nation's capital.
The British Ministry of Defense said Sunday that the planes it flew to Abuja ferried Nigerian troops and equipment to Bamako, Mali. Nigerian soldiers have been sent to Mali to help French forces and Malian troops battle Islamic extremists there. The British military said it also transported Ghanaian soldiers to Mali the same way.
The British ministry declined to offer any other comment regarding Nigerian extremist group's claims that it killed the seven hostage killings. Ansaru had said it believed the planes were part of a Nigerian and British rescue mission for the abducted hostages.
The U.K. has offered military support in the past in Nigeria to free hostages. In March 2012, its special forces backed a failed Nigerian military raid to free Christopher McManus, who had been abducted months earlier with Italian Franco Lamolinara from a home in Kebbi state. Both hostages were killed in that rescue attempt.
In its statement Saturday, Ansaru also blamed the killings on a pledge by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to do "everything possible" to free the hostages.
Ansaru previously issued a short statement saying its fighters kidnapped the foreigners Feb. 16 from a construction company's camp at Jama'are, a town about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state. In the attack gunmen first assaulted a local prison and burned police trucks, authorities said. Then the attackers blew up a back fence at the construction company's compound and took over, killing a guard in the process, witnesses and police said.
The gunmen appeared to be organized and knew who they wanted to target, leaving the Nigerian household staff at the residence unharmed, while quickly abducting the foreigners, a witness said. Local officials in Nigeria initially identified one of the hostages as a Filipino, something the Philippines government later denied.
In January 2013, Ansaru declared itself a splinter group independent from Boko Haram, the north's main Islamic terrorist group, analysts say. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege," has launched a guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. Boko Haram is blamed for at least 792 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count. Boko Haram claims to be currently holding hostage a family of seven French tourists who were abducted from neighboring Cameroon in late February.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .