A DIPLOMATIC row has erupted over the failed hostage rescue attempt in Nigeria during which a Britsh construction worker and an Italian colleague were apparently murdered by their kidnappers.
David Cameron cleared UK special forces and Nigerian troops to make the attempt on Thursday but he has been accused of keeping Italian officials in the dark.
Italian president Giorgio Napolitano branded Downing Street’s failure to inform Rome in advance of the operation “inexplicable”.
Chris McManus, from Oldham, and his Italian co-worker Franco Lamolinara died as Nigerian troops and UK Special Boat Service (SBS) commandos tried to end their nine months in captivity. The attempt to rescue them was apparently brought forward because the kidnappers – believed to be members of a jihadi group associated with al Qaida – became aware the net was closing around them.
There were reports of a fierce firefight after the house in the north-western town of Sokoto was surrounded.
Mr McManus, a contract worker for the construction company B.Stabilini, and co-worker Mr Lamolinara, who were in the city building a bank, were kidnapped by a “horde of gunmen” in May last year from their apartment in Birnin-Kebbi, in the north west of the country.
Number 10 said contacts had taken place between the governments as the operation to rescue them got under way, and Mr Cameron later spoke to Italian prime minister Mario Monti by phone after it was learned that the men were dead.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said he was not aware of any request from Rome to halt the operation or of any complaint from Mr Monti during the phone call.
It had been clear for some time that one option was an attempt to rescue the two men, and Downing Street was not aware of Italy raising any objection to a possible mission, according to the spokesman, who said Mr Cameron did not offer any apology for the way in which the mission unfolded.
Mr Monti disclosed the lack of warning in a statement in which he said UK and Nigerian authorities had determined the operation was the “last window of opportunity to save the hostages’ lives”.
Mr Napolitano told reporters: “The behaviour of the British Government in not informing Italy is inexplicable. A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary.”
Italian diplomat Antonio Puri Purini said the events had been an “unacceptable slap in the face” for his countrymen.
Writing in the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he claimed Britain’s nostalgia for its imperialist days had led it to act alone. “The UK again operates, perhaps unconsciously, through nostalgia for an imperialist glory that leads it to carry out military interventions in isolation, working with no one except the US government, to whom it tells everything.
“It is conscious of having won many conflicts in the last two centuries ... and acts in military matters with a sense of superiority.”
But Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “We had been in contact with the Italians on a regular basis over the past nine months.
“We have had many, many meetings in the UK on this issue. There have been around 20 meetings of Cobra to discuss this particular case and throughout that period we have been in contact with the Italians.
“An option was always a rescue operation. We have been keeping them informed throughout.”
He added: “Things moved quite quickly in recent days and we had to respond to that. The Prime Minister was asked for authorisation and gave that authorisation, but this was a Nigerian-led operation.
“In any situation such as this, we need to take the advice of those people on the ground closest to the situation.
“Their very strong advice was that it was important to act and to act quickly and that that was the best chance of getting these people out. Early indications are that both men were murdered by their captors before they could be rescued.”
Confirming the deaths on Thursday Mr Cameron had paid tributes to the families of both men, saying they had been through a “terrible ordeal”.