Nigerian president: Setraco hostages may be alive

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FILE - Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, centre, stands outside his house guarded by policemen in Yenagoa, Nigeria, in this file photo dated Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005. (AP Photo, File)

BEIRUT: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gave new hope to the families of two Lebanese kidnapped there last month along with five other foreigners when he said Monday that “some” of the original seven hostages may be alive.

Islamist militants from the Ansaru group claimed responsibility for their kidnapping from the housing compound of Lebanese-Nigerian construction firm Setraco in the northern region of Bauchi. The group later announced they had killed the seven, releasing a video shortly afterward that purported to show the slain hostages.

The governments of Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom have all confirmed the likely death of their nationals, while Lebanon said its citizens, Imad al-Andari and Carlos Abu Aziz, did not appear in the video and may have been placed in a separate group with the two Syrians.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry has yet to make an official announcement, but the identities of Julio al-Khouli and his wife Ghaidaa Saad were confirmed to The Daily Star by the Syrian Embassy in Nigeria and a Setraco employee.

“Analysis of the information we have does not give us the conclusive position that they have all been killed, but we suspect some might have died of health-related causes or direct killing,” Jonathan said during a visit by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

Sleiman is the first Lebanese president to visit West Africa, which is home to a large Lebanese expatriate community, many of whom work in construction and development.

The raid on Setraco has raised fears for the safety of foreign companies and their employees.

“We have been working hard with friendly nations, especially the United Kingdom, to see that they are rescued,” Jonathan said. “We suspect that they are in a rocky area, a very difficult area that cannot be easily accessed but we are working hard to get to them.”

The Syrian envoy to Nigeria, Abdel-Hamid Salloum, was cautiously optimistic regarding the fate of the two Syrians.

“God willing, they are alright,” he told The Daily Star by phone from Abuja. “Until now, we don’t know. There was nothing clear in the video.”

Salloum went on to say he had spoken with Sleiman, but described the meeting as “protocol.”

“We spoke very generally about Arab fraternity, etcetera,” he said. “There was no opportunity to discuss the Syrian crisis or anything else.”

Ansaru has been linked to both Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, a prominent Islamist group operating in northern Nigeria. – With agencies

The Daily Star - Lebanon