Italian President Giorgio Napolitano led a chorus of condemnation on Friday of Britain’s failure to inform the Italian government before launching a botched rescue mission with Nigerian forces that led to the deaths of British and Italian hostages held by a militant Islamist group.
Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara, who were kidnapped in May while working for a construction company in northwest Nigeria, were killed by their captors during the raid, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.
In the strongest Italian condemnation, Napolitano said: “The behaviour of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable. A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary.” Prime Minister Mario Monti said Italy had been informed only after the raid began against a compound in the town of Sokoto. The British government confirmed this on Friday.
While Italian media criticised Britain for acting unilaterally, commentators also said the event underscored Italy’s diminishing international clout. They linked the incident to an ongoing struggle by Italy to free two marines on anti-piracy duty who are being held in India for shooting dead two fishermen in the Indian Ocean. “The UK still acts, maybe unconsciously, with the nostalgia of imperial glory,” said Antonio Puri Purini in Corriere della Sera, the country’s biggest daily, drawing another parallel with the capsizing of the giant cruise liner Costa Concordia in January.
The British ambassador in Rome visited the Italian Foreign Ministry on his own accord on Thursday, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said. In Britain there were attempts to play down the spat. “I don’t think failure to make a phone call five minutes earlier will damage relations between Britain and Italy,” Richard Ottaway, chairman of Britain’s Foreign Affairs select committee, said.
Cameron said that after months of not knowing where the men were, authorities had “received credible information about their location.’’ Believing the men’s lives were in “imminent and growing danger,’’ a rescue operation was mounted, Cameron said. Cameron said “the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors, before they could be rescued.’’ But a senior security official in Nigeria said the two hostages apparently died in the crossfire.
The hostage takers were a faction of militant Islamist sect Boko Haram that has links with al-Qaeda’s north African wing, a senior official at Nigeria’s State Security Service said. Boko Haram has been blamed for shootings and bombings that have killed hundreds in the