JOHANNESBURG — An extremist splinter group Monday claimed responsibility for the weekend kidnapping of seven foreigners in northern Nigeria.
The group, Ansaru, broke away from the Islamist insurgent organization Boko Haram, which has been mounting regular attacks in the north in recent years.
Gunmen attacked a prison on Saturday in Jamaare, Bauchi state, then blasted their way into a housing compound for foreign workers employed by a Lebanese construction company, Setraco, and seized the seven foreigners.
There are contradictory reports as to the nationalities of the hostages. The Associated Press reported those held included a Briton, a Greek, an Italian, three Lebanese and a Filipino.
Ansaru said in a statement that it had taken the hostages in reprisal for the actions of European countries in Afghanistan and Mali, where France recently launched a military campaign to drive out militants linked to al-Qaida.
The kidnapping was “based on the transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali,” according to an Ansaru statement reported by news agencies.
The statement warned that the hostages would be killed if there was any rescue attempt, but it made no demands.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday deplored the attack and said he had ordered security services to do everything in their power to safely free the hostages.
Ansaru’s statement suggests that unlike Boko Haram, the group is focused on mounting attacks on foreign targets, making it potentially a greater global terror threat than its parent organization.
It also suggests possible links between the group and insurgents tied to al-Qaida who seized control of much of Mali in April, only to be driven out of major towns and cities in January by French and Malian forces.
Boko Haram has so far been focused on local grievances, and aims to create a state in Nigeria governed by Islamic sharia law.