DAKAR — The Nigerian militant group known as Ansaru says it has killed seven foreign hostages it kidnapped last month in Nigeria's northern Bauchi state.
The Nigerian radical group, known by its nickname Ansaru, says it killed seven hostages in retaliation for what it said were British and Nigerian plans to rescue them, referencing local media reports.
A silent video posted to YouTube purports to show the hostages' bodies. Four bodies are seen at a slight distance, while three are seen in graphic close-up shots. The body of one man appears to have an eye missing.
The Nigerian government has remained silent on the report. But European officials are saying the hostages were killed. Four of the hostages were Lebanese, one was Greek, one was Italian and one was British.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the execution of the hostages in a televised statement, and pledged continued cooperation against terrorism in Nigeria. "This is an unforgivable act of pure, cold-blooded murder for which there can be no excuse or justification," he stated.
Ansaru's full name in Arabic means "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa." The group released its first statement in January 2012 and is believed to be behind the kidnapping of as many as 17 foreigners.
Some believe Ansaru to be a breakaway from the militant Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram, which is blamed for more than 1,500 deaths since 2009.
Ansaru's leader has said Boko Haram is too focused on attacking Nigerians, and not Westerners, who he calls the real enemies of Islam.
Security experts say Ansaru's tactics and targets indicate close ties to al-Qaida's North Africa affiliate and notorious kidnap-for-ransom outfit, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Ansaru has targeted French nationals and those supporting the now two-month-old French-led military intervention against jihadists in northern Mali.
The group ambushed a Nigerian military convoy bound for Mali on January 20th, killing two soldiers.
In addition to the seven hostages now reported dead, Ansaru has claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French engineer in northern Nigeria in December and a French family of seven - including four children - last month in northern Cameroon.
U.S.-based global intelligence firm, Stratfor, says Ansaru's activities are a sign that "widespread kidnapping" could be the "fallout of the Mali intervention."