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Hostages 'killed before rescue'

The Briton and Italian kidnapped in Nigeria were abducted by a splinter cell of a radical Islamist sect and murdered before a failed commando rescue operation, the nation's secret police said.

Nigeria's secretive State Security Service also said the mastermind of the kidnapping by members of a sect known as Boko Haram died in their custody after suffering gunshot wounds during his arrest before the raid.

The police statement comes nearly a week after the failed rescue operation March 8 by British and Nigerian commandos in Nigeria's north west city of Sokoto.

It also appears to try to absolve Nigerian authorities of any responsibility over the deaths of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, who had been kidnapped in May 2011 and held for months before their execution.

"While the service commiserates with the families of the murdered expatriates, it wishes to reiterate that the long arm of the law will surely catch up with terrorists and perpetrators of evil wherever they are," the statement by the secret police, which has been unable to stop the growing violence surging across Nigeria's Muslim north, said.

British officials also have blamed a splinter wing of the Boko Haram sect for the abductions, but a sect spokesman has denied the group's involvement.

Mr McManus was working for the construction company B.Stabilini when he was kidnapped on May 12 by gunmen who stormed his apartment in the city of Birnin-Kebbi, about 110 miles away from Sokoto. Mr Lamolinara was also abducted. A German colleague managed to escape by scaling a wall, but a Nigerian engineer was shot and wounded.

A video released later showed the kidnappers claiming they belonged to al Qaida and threatening to kill Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara if their demands were not met. British officials worked for months trying to track down the men as rumours floated that they had been taken out of the country.

In its statement, the State Security Service said three young men watched Mr McManus before the abduction. Information gathered led security forces to a house in Zaria in central Kaduna state on March 7, where forces shot and wounded Abu Mohammed, the mastermind of the kidnapping, the secret police said.

A soldier was killed in that operation and apparently one sect member escaped, the service said. Another sect member led authorities to the Mabera neighbourhood of Sokoto, where the hostages were being held, the secret police said. However, the statement said it was too late to save the hostages.

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