Government

Setraco 7: Some hostages may still be alive – Jonathan

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President Goodluck Jonathan has said that he believes that some of the seven foreign hostages kidnapped by the Ansaru Islamist sect in Jama’are, Bauchi State on February 7 may still be alive.

President Jonathan spoke during a joint news conference he addressed with visiting Lebanese President Michel Sleiman at the Presidential Villa, adding that the Federal Government has no conclusive report that they are all dead as claimed by Ansaru, and if at the end they are dead, the government would recover their bodies.

Four Lebanese are among the seven foreign construction workers, all of them employees of Setraco, which was building the Bauchi – Maiduguri road in the northeast. The rest are from Britain, Italy and Greece.

They are Brendan Vaughan (British); Silvano Trevisan (Italian); Imad Andari (Lebanese); Carlos Bou Aziz (Lebanese); Konstantinos Karras (Greek); Ghaida Saad (F/Syrian); and Julio Alkhouli (Syrian).

Ansaru believed to be a breakaway faction of the notorious Boko Haram Islamist sect had penultimate Saturday said it had killed all  the hostages because of attempts by Britain and Nigeria to rescue them. It then posted a video of what it said was the bodies of the foreigners on the Internet

The video dated March 9 showed a gunman standing next to a pile of bodies, then close-ups of their faces lit up by a torch. It carried the Arabic title, “The killing of the seven Christian hostages in Nigeria” although the religion of the deceased  was not clear.

A caption underneath it  said in Arabic and in English: “In the name of Allah Most Beneficent Most Merciful.”

The United Kingdom, Italy and Greece had shortly before the sect’s video went viral, confirmed the killings.

But less than a week after the Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, told the BBC  that Ansaru’s  claim  remained unconfirmed, while Jonathan  on Monday  said  that some of the hostages might have died of natural causes.

President Jonathan said: “It is quite a sad moment in our history – the issue of the excesses of Boko Haram and related organisations getting involved terrorist tactics. It is quite sad. It is a very ugly phase which we would pass through.

“From the date of the kidnap, various nationals were involved and we’ve been working with our own friendly nations, including the United Kingdom and others, to see that these people are rescued.

“Because of the ugly experience we had when a similar situation happened and about the time we were about to release the people, they were shot, security services were being careful so that if they notice invasion they would not just turn round and kill the people.

“Along that process, the place where they suspected to be holding them is quite a difficult area – a rocky terrain that you cannot easily access.

“Over the period, they released some information through the social media but analysis of that information does not really give us a conclusive position. So we discuss it every day.

“We really suspect that some probably have died either from health or other related causes or direct killing, but we still believe that not all the seven have been killed; because even the release in the social media did not really show all the seven .So, we are still working on it.

“I briefed my colleague, the President of Lebanon that we are still working on it and will get to the root and if they are killed, I insist that we must get their corpses.’’

The Lebanese President urged the abductors to have a rethink and release the hostages “immediately”.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be a recording heard by Radio France International (RFI), the head of a French family – including four children – kidnapped by Boko Haram in Cameroon and believed to be held in Borno State, has apparently spoken.

The recording obtained yesterday opens with the voice of a man claiming to be a member of Boko Haram, then switches to Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, the head of the hostage family, who says his he been held hostage for 25 days.

“We have to be cautious with this recording because there has been no official authentication that it is him,” said RFI correspondent Julie Vandal. “But, comparing it with the earlier video, there is no doubt that it’s him.”

Vandal said Moulin-Founier had explained that he was being held in a desert region and that life was very difficult, especially for the children, the youngest of whom is four years old.

“Each day we are losing our strength and we are beginning to become ill,” he said. “We can’t last much longer.”

He repeated demands made in the previous video calling for the release of prisoners being held in Cameroon and Nigeria.

The recording, believed to have been copied from a video, is addressed directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya: “They will only liberate us if the men that you have arrested in Cameroon are set free.

“Boko Haram does not want a conflict with Cameroon, but if you continue to arrest its members, there will be kidnappings and suicide attacks in Cameroon.”

The video appears to have been recorded while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was visiting Cameroon and Nigeria.

“We have been held for 25 days in a desert place,” says the man, who identifies himself as Tanguy Moulin-Fournier.

Speaking in French and English, he complains of “very difficult” conditions, “especially for the children” and says that the seven hostages will not hold out much longer.

The video was sent to journalists in Maidiguri.

The Herald NG is a leading newspaper in Nigeria at the forefront of the digital revolution.

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