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Italy says seven foreign hostages killed in Nigeria

Kano, Nigeria:  Italy's foreign ministry said today that seven foreign hostages kidnapped in northern Nigeria had been killed as claimed by Islamic extremists, the worst such foreign abduction violence to hit the turbulent West African nation in decades.

Greece also confirmed one of its citizens had been killed by Ansaru, the radical group that claimed responsibility for abducting the foreigners from northern Bauchi state on February 16.

Authorities in Lebanon and the United Kingdom have yet to comment publicly, while Nigerian officials could not be immediately reached for comment today.

"It's an atrocious act of terrorism, against which the Italian government expresses its firmest condemnation, and which has no explanation, if not that of barbarous and blind violence," a statement from Italy's foreign ministry read.

Italy also flatly denied a claim by Ansaru that the hostages were killed before or during a military operation by Nigerian and British forces, saying there was "no military intervention aimed at freeing the hostages."

A statement from Greece's foreign ministry said authorities had already informed the hostage's family.

"We note that the terrorists never communicated or formulated demands to release the hostages," the statement read, which also denied any military raid took place. Ansaru previously issued a short statement saying its fighters kidnapped the foreigners February 16 from a construction company's camp at Jama'are, a town about 200 kilometres 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 organised 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 an online statement yesterday claiming the killings, 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.
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