UK investigates Nigeria al Qaeda kidnap claim

Western diplomats have feared the group would spread into Nigeria`s Muslim north.

Lago: British authorities on Thursday said they
were investigating a video claiming an al Qaeda group now
holds a British and Italian man kidnapped from northern
Nigeria in May.

The one-minute video, distributed by a news
agency, shows the two men kneeling in front of three
masked men holding a heavy machine gun and two Kalashnikov
rifles. The two hostages, both blindfolded, ask authorities to
comply with their kidnappers` demands.

The Press could not confirm the
authenticity of the video, which AFP said it received at its
bureau in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. AFP blurred the faces of the
two hostages, though one could be seen wearing a Manchester
United soccer jersey.

The British Foreign Office released a statement today
saying it remained in close contact with Nigerian and Italian
authorities.

"We are working to secure the hostages` safe and swift
release," the statement read. "We ask those holding the two
men to show compassion and release them, enabling them to
rejoin their families."

Police said the two men were kidnapped May 12 from an
apartment in Kebbi state, which borders Niger. Such
kidnappings are rare in northern Nigeria, though foreign
workers in the country`s oil-rich southern delta fall prey to
criminal gangs and militants.

The men in the video identify their kidnappers as
belonging to al Qaeda, but offered no other details. al Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African affiliate of the
terror group, has its roots in an extremist group in Algeria
that brokered an alliance with al Qaeda in 2006.

It has since kidnapped more than a dozen Europeans
including tourists and aid workers. The group is believed to
be using the ransom payments to bankroll their operations and
with each kidnapping their tactics have become more bold.

The group operates in West Africa and the northern
deserts and capital of Niger. However, it would be the first
time the group involved itself in an operation in northern
Nigeria.

Western diplomats have feared the group would spread
into Nigeria`s Muslim north, where dissatisfied masses live in
poverty as politicians reap the wealth of Africa`s most
populous nation.

PTI