IT WAS SUPPOSED to conclude with the Prime Minister calling a press conference at which he would say how delighted he was to announce that a Special Forces operation had freed a Briton held by jihadi kidnappers in Nigeria.
Instead, David Cameron had to call the family of the 28-year-old engineer Christopher McManus (above), kidnapped last May while working on the construction of a Nigerian bank, to inform them that a rescue bid had failed and their son had been killed by his captors.
The PM also had to telephone his Italian counterpart, Mario Monti, to explain that McManus’s Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara, taken captive at the same time, had been killed too. And he had to explain to Monti why the Italians had not been consulted before he gave the order to send in the Special Boat Service (the Navy’s equivalent to the Army’s SAS) yesterday morning.
SBS raid: Italians outraged – but are they being disingenuous?
As a senior British military source told The Daily Telegraph, “This has not been a good day but that should not take away from the fact that it was a properly scoped, intelligence-driven operation that our special forces undertook. You can be the best in the world and still be unlucky.
“This operation was the best opportunity for a successful conclusion and everyone is mortified it went wrong.”
In Italy there was outrage. The Italian secret service claims it was not consulted by the British. Italian MPs are demanding answers. At 9am today in Rome, Monti was gathering his security advisers for an emergency meeting to discuss what went wrong.
Who made the rescue bid?
The operation was led by about 20 members of the Special Boat Service, including some Royal Marines, backed up by Nigerian forces. The Daily Telegraph reports that the SBS had been in Nigeria for two weeks, being passed intelligence by the Government’s listening service at GCHQ Cheltenham.
Who were the kidnappers?
It is not totally clear. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan described them as being from Boko Haram, the militant Islamists held responsible for killing nearly 200 Christians in a church in December. The BBC believes the kidnappers belonged to a splinter cell within Boko Haram who might have links to al-Qaeda. In December, a group calling themselves “al-Qaeda in the land beyond the Sahel” claimed they were the captors. A British government source described the men’s captors as among the “nastiest al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists there are”.
Why did the rescue bid happen at such short notice?
According to The Guardian, the precise location of McManus and Lamolinara – a house in Sokoto in northern Nigeria – was apparently obtained when the Nigerian secret service raided a Boko Haram hideout in the state of Kaduna. David Cameron then gave the go-ahead for the rescue bid knowing that the two hostages might be moved and/or murdered at any moment. Events were moving fast and UK officials talk of a “collapsing time frame”. As Cameron put it afterwards, “A window of opportunity arose to secure their release.”
How did it go wrong?
The two kidnap victims are understood to have been killed by their captors by the time the SBS troops reached them. It is not yet clear when exactly they were killed. The Guardian suggests the kidnappers murdered both McManus and Lamolinara in retaliation for the raid in Kaduna. The Daily Telegraph says that while the SBS managed to kill two terrorists as they entered the house in Sokoto, they were unable to prevent other kidnappers murdering McManus and Lamolinara.
Did Cameron make the right call?
Although it ended badly, military sources have told The Week that it is very likely the intelligence advice to Cameron was that the two men were almost certainly about to be killed by their captors. Therefore, there was nothing to lose by trying to rescue them. The risk calculations will have been made at the Ministry of Defence and a decision to go in would have simply required the PM’s approval.
Were the kidnappers caught?
According to the Nigerians, all those who survived the firefight with UK and Nigerian forces were captured. After the raid, the UK and Nigerian soldiers were said to have surrounded another building house in Sokoto where gunfire continued into the night. President Jonathan declared that the surviving kidnappers “would be made to face the full wrath of the law”.
What will the Italians do now?
Prime Minister Monti has asked Nigeria’s President Jonathan to provide a “detailed reconstruction” of events leading to the hostage deaths. Reports in the Italian press this morning suggests the issue of a lack of consultation by the British will not be brushed away quickly. ·
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