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Extremists claim responsibility for Nigeria kidnappings

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

BAUCHI, Nigeria — A little-known Islamic extremist group claimed responsibility on Monday for the kidnapping of seven foreign workers from northern Nigeria, threatening their safety if anyone tries to intervene and free them.

The group that calls itself Ansaru issued a short statement, obtained by The Associated Press, in which it said its fighters kidnapped the foreigners on Saturday night from a construction company's camp at Jama'are, a town about 125 miles north of Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state.

Authorities 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.

The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, issued a statement saying Ansaru 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.” The French military is conducting operations with the Malian army to rout Islamic fighters who took over that country's north in the weeks after a military coup there last year.

“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 statement read. The statement offered no conditions, suggesting that the group would contact authorities to make a ransom demand.

Police and security officials in Nigeria did not immediately respond the statement.

Greek and Italian diplomats have confirmed their citizens were abducted. Britain's Foreign Office said on Monday that it is aware of reports that a number of foreign nationals, including a British national, were abducted. It said the Foreign Office is in contact with the Nigerian authorities.

In January 2012, Ansaru declared itself a breakaway group from Boko Haram, the north's main terrorist group, analysts say. Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege,” has engaged in a guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.

Boko Haram is blamed for more than 790 killings last year, according to an AP count.

Ansaru's aims are not known, but they have a different message from Boko Haram, according to Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

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