Islamists kidnap seven foreign workers in northern Nigeria

The group that calls itself Ansaru issued a statement in which it said its fighters kidnapped the foreigners on Saturday night in Jamaare.

BAUCHI, NIGERIA // A little-known Islamist extremist group claimed responsibility yesterday for the kidnapping of seven foreign workers from northern Nigeria, threatening their safety if anyone tried to intervene and free them.

The group that calls itself Ansaru issued a short statement in which it said its fighters kidnapped the foreigners on Saturday night from a construction company's camp at Jamaare, a town about 200 kilometres north of Baluchi, the capital of Baluchi state.

Authorities have said those kidnapped include one British citizen, one Greek, one Italian, three Lebanese and one Filipino, all employees of a Lebanese construction company called Setraco.

Ansaru said it committed the abduction "based on the transgression and atrocities shown to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali".

"It is stressed that any attempt or act contrary to our conditions by the European nations or by the Nigerian government will" endanger the hostages, the group said. It offered no conditions, suggesting the group would later contact authorities to make a ransom demand.

Police and security officials in Nigeria did not immediately respond to the statement. Greek and Italian diplomats have confirmed their citizens were abducted, while British officials have only said they continue to investigate the claims.

Ansaru declared themselves as a breakaway group in January 2012 from Boko Haram, the north's main terrorist group. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege", has launched a guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. Boko Haram is blamed for at least 792 killings last year alone.

Ansaru's aims are unknown - but they have a different message from Boko Haram, according to Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

"They seem to disagree with some of Boko Haram's strategies - in particular, they disagreed with Boko Haram's tendency to kill Muslims," Pantucci said.

"They seem to be more internationally focused, they talk a lot more in global jihad terms and they seem very eager to cultivate that side of their image. It makes them more dangerous."