KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) — A breakaway Islamic extremist group said Saturday it killed seven foreigners who its members kidnapped from northern Nigeria, according to an online message purportedly from the group.
The message, identified as coming from Ansaru, could not be immediately verified by The Associated Press, though it included photographs the group claimed showed the dead, who were kidnapped from a construction company compound in February. Those kidnapped included three Lebanese citizens and one each from Britain, Greece, Italy and the Philippines — all employees of Setraco, a Lebanese construction company with an operation in Bauchi state, local officials said at the time.
British officials declined to immediately comment Saturday. Two Nigerian military spokesmen declined to immediately comment when reached by the AP, while a presidential spokesman and a spokeswoman for the country's domestic spy service could not be immediately reached.
The message, posted to an Islamic extremist website Saturday, said Ansaru members killed the hostages after British warplanes were seen in Bauchi, in the country's north, by Nigerian journalists.
"As a result of this operation, the seven hostages were killed," the group said in the statement. It said a video of the killings would be posted online. An online image accompanying the posting appeared to show a gunmen standing over dead bodies.
Ansaru previously issued a short statement in which it said 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. The attack saw gunmen first assault a local prison and burn 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 members at the residence unharmed, while the foreigners were quickly abducted, a witness said.
In January 2013, Ansaru declared itself a splinter group independent from Boko Haram, the north's main 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 AP count.
Britain previously linked Ansaru to the May 2011 kidnapping of Christopher McManus, who was abducted with Italian Franco Lamolinara from a home in Kebbi state. The men were held for months, before their captors killed them in March 2012 them during a failed Nigerian military raid backed up by British special forces in Sokoto, the main city in Nigeria's northwest.
Boko Haram group earlier claimed the kidnapping in December of a French national working on a renewable energy project in Nigeria's northern Katsina state.
Associated Press writers Sylvia Hui in London and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .