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Italy condemns UK over hostage bid

The UK and Italy have become embroiled in a diplomatic row over the failed hostage rescue bid in Nigeria.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano branded Downing Street's failure to inform Rome "inexplicable". British construction worker Chris McManus and his Italian co-worker Franco Lamolinara died on Thursday as Nigerian troops and UK Special Boat Service commandos tried to end their nine months in captivity.

The bid to rescue the men was apparently brought forward because the kidnappers - believed to be members of a jihadi group associated with al Qaida - became aware that 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.

Number 10 said that contacts had taken place between the governments as the operation got under way, and that David Cameron later spoke to Italian prime minister Mario Monti by phone after it was learned that the hostages were dead.

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 Cameron's spokesman told reporters at a regular Westminster briefing: "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."

The governments later played down tensions over the rescue bid in a joint statement, issued after Foreign Secretary William Hague met Italian counterpart Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata at a wider gathering in Copenhagen.

According to the statement, Mr Hague "made clear that there had been a limited opportunity to secure the release of the two hostages whose lives were in imminent and growing danger". "Under these circumstances it was only possible to inform Italy once the operation was already getting under way," it added.

The statement went on: "Mr Terzi expressed deep sorrow and disappointment over the tragic outcome of the operation and both ministers agreed on the urgency of sharing full information to facilitate the reconstruction and understanding of these events."

"Both ministers conveyed their solidarity and sympathy for the families of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara. They reaffirmed that the UK and Italy will continue to work together closely in the fight against such horrific terrorism and hostage-taking."


From Belfast Telegraph