KANO, Nigeria (AP) — A video posted online appears to show the corpses of some of the seven foreign hostages abducted by Islamic extremists in northern Nigeria and later killed, a gruesome warning of the growing dangers in the region.
The video, viewed by The Associated Press on Monday, matched still images released earlier by the Islamic extremist group Ansaru when it claimed the killings. The face of one of the corpses in the video also resembled that of one of the hostages already named by authorities.
European diplomats said Sunday that the hostages had been killed.
On Monday, Nigerian Interior Minister Abba Moro told the BBC’s Hausa language radio service that those nations said that it was “likely” that their citizens had died in the attack.
“We hope they’re alive,” Moro said. Moro did not respond to requests for comment Monday from the AP. Nigerian officials often speak to the BBC Hausa service, as it is viewed as one of the dominant independent news sources in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.
In the video, a gunman stands in sand, holding a rifle near what appears to be dead bodies. A later shot in the video shows three male corpses, one of whom appears to have been killed by a gunshot wound to the head from a high-powered weapon.
The video has no sound. An accompanying caption for the video in Arabic calls it: “The killing of seven Christian hostages in Nigeria.” Another description includes the statement Ansaru released Saturday claiming that it killed the hostages, signed by a man with the nom de guerre Abu Usamatal Ansary.
Ansaru fighters kidnapped the foreigners Feb. 16 from a camp for the construction company Setraco at Jama’are, a town 200 kilometers (125 miles) 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.
Those kidnapped included four Lebanese and one citizen each from the United Kingdom, Greece and Italy. Local officials in Nigeria initially identified one of the hostages as a Filipino, something the Philippines government later denied.
The gunmen appeared to be organized and knew who they wanted to target, leaving the Nigerian household staff at the residence unharmed, while quickly abducting the foreigners, a witness said.
In an online statement Saturday in which it claimed the killings, Ansaru said it killed the hostages in part because of reports in the Nigerian press of the arrival of British military aircraft to Bauchi. However, the local news articles cited by Ansaru reported that the airplanes were spotted at the international airport in Abuja, the nation’s central capital 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest.
The British Defense Ministry said Sunday the planes it flew to Abuja ferried Nigerian troops and equipment to Bamako, Mali. Nigerian soldiers have been sent to Mali to help French forces and Malian troops battle Islamic extremists there. The British military said it also transported Ghanaian soldiers to Mali the same way. Ansaru had said it believed the planes were part of a Nigerian and British rescue mission for the abducted hostages.
The news of the killing of the hostages comes as the nation’s security forces remain unable to stop the guerrilla campaign of bombings, shootings and kidnappings across the country’s north. The majority of those attacks have been blamed on Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that grew out of the remains of a sect that sparked a riot and a security crackdown in Nigeria in 2009 in which about 700 people were killed.
Boko Haram has hit international targets before, including an August 2011 car bombing of the United Nations office in Abuja that killed 25 people and wounded more than 100. An online video also purportedly claims that Boko Haram is currently holding hostage a family of seven French tourists who were abducted from neighboring Cameroon in late February. The group is blamed for killing at least 792 people last year alone, according to an AP count.
Ansaru, which analysts believe split from Boko Haram in January 2012, seems to be focusing much more on Western targets. Analysts say it has closer links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and cares more about international issues, as opposed to Boko Haram’s largely local grievances. But much remains unknown about Ansaru, which has communicated through short, sometimes muddled online statements.
The hostage killings appear to be the worst in decades targeting foreigners working in Nigeria, an oil-rich nation that’s a major crude supplier to the United States. Most kidnappings in the country’s southern oil delta see foreigners released after companies pay ransoms. The latest kidnappings in Nigeria’s north, however, have seen the hostages killed either by their captors or in military raids to free them, suggesting a new level of danger for expatriate workers there.