President Goodluck Jonathan has said he believes that some of the seven foreigners kidnapped by an Islamic sect, Ansaru, in Jama’are, Bauchi State on February 7, are still alive.
Ansaru had penultimate Saturday said it had killed all the hostages because of attempts by Britain and Nigeria to rescue them. It went ahead to post 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, Jonathan on Monday said that some of the hostages might have died of natural causes.
The President, who addressed a joint press conference with visiting President Michel Sleiman of the Republic of Lebanon, added that the UK and other friendly nations were working with the Nigerian authorities to rescue those still alive. He assured that if eventually it was confirmed that all the hostages – Brendan Vaughan (British); Silvano Trevisan (Italian); Imad Andari (Lebanese); Carlos Bou Aziz (Lebanese); Konstantinos Karras (Greek); Ghaida Saad (F/Syrian); and Julio Alkhouli (Syrian ) - were killed, he would insist on the recovery of their bodies.
Jonathan said since Lebanese were among the hostages, he had briefed the visiting President on efforts being made by his administration to rescue them.
Jonathan stated that security agents had been careful about the rescue process in order not to expose the hostages to danger like a previous scenario where victims were killed by their captors when efforts were being made to free them.
He also identified the difficult terrain of the place where the hostages are suspected to be kept as another major challenge being faced by security operatives.
The President said, “We discussed it (the issue of the foreign hostages). It is quite a sad moment in our history. The issue of excesses of Boko Haram and related organisations getting involved in terrorist activities, it is quite sad; it is a sad stage which we will pass through.
“On the kidnap, various nationals are involved and we have been working with our 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 to release the people, they were shot. The security services are being careful so that the hostages would not be killed.
“The place where we suspect they are is quite a difficult area; its 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.
“We discuss this everyday. We really suspect that some probably have died either from ill health or other related causes but we still believe that not all the seven (have died) because even what we saw on the social media did not really show all the seven.
“So we are still working . I have briefed my colleague, the President of Lebanon, that we are still working on it and we will get to the root. If they are killed, I will insist that we must get their corpses.”
On whether the military in the two countries would collaborate on the matter, Jonathan said he did not discuss direct military pact with the Lebanese president for now.
He however said they agreed at the international level for Nigeria and Lebanon to work with the rest of the world to ensure that the excesses of terrorists worldwide were contained.
Sleiman whose visit to the country is said to be the first by any Lebanese President since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, thanked the Federal Government for its efforts to liberate the hostages.
He urged the kidnappers to set the hostages free immediately, saying their kidnapping would not serve any purpose.
“I agree with President Jonathan. I thank the Nigerian government for its efforts aimed at the liberation of the hostages. I hope the kidnappers will set them free immediately.
“These actions (kidnappings) are not efficient and they will not serve any cause, no matter how important the causes are for the perpetrators. On the contrary, they bring negative outcomes,” the Lebanese President said.
In a joint communique issued at the end of the presidents’ bilateral talks, the two leaders were said to have exchanged views on regional and international issues.
The visiting President later inspected a guard of honour mounted by men of the Presidential Guards Brigade.