Nigeria’s government and police remained silent today after radical Islamic fighters killed seven foreign hostages.

Police, military, domestic spy service and the presidency refused to comment on the killings of the construction company workers, kidnapped on February 16 from northern Bauchi state.

The government’s silence only led to more questions about the nation’s continued inability to halt attacks that have seen hundreds killed in shootings, church bombings and an attack on the United Nations.

The latest victims were four Lebanese and one citizen apiece from Britain, Greece and Italy.

Britain and Italy said all seven of those taken from the Setrapo construction company compound had died at the hands of Ansaru, a previously little-known splinter group of the Islamic sect Boko Haram.

“It’s an atrocious act of terrorism, against which the Italian government expresses its firmest condemnation, and which has no explanation, if not that of barbarous and blind violence,” a statement from Italy’s foreign ministry said.

Italy also flatly denied a claim by Ansaru that the hostages were killed before or during a military operation by Nigerian and British forces, saying there was “no military intervention aimed at freeing the hostages.”

Italian Premier Mario Monti identified the slain Italian hostage as Silvano Trevisan and promised Rome would use “every effort” to stop the killers. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the killings “an act of cold-blooded murder” and identified the UK victim as Brendan Vaughan.

A statement from Greece’s foreign ministry said authorities had already informed the hostage’s family.

“We note that the terrorists never communicated or formulated demands to release the hostages,” the statement read, which also denied any military raid took place.

Ansaru issued a short statement yesterday saying its fighters kidnapped the foreigners from the construction company’s camp at Jama’are, a town about 125 miles north of Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state. In the attack, gunmen first assaulted a local prison and burned police trucks, authorities said. Then the attackers blew up a back fence at the construction company’s compound and took over, killing a guard in the process, witnesses and police said.

The gunmen appeared to be organised and knew who they wanted to target, leaving the Nigerian household staff at the residence unharmed, while quickly abducting the foreigners, a witness said.

In an online statement yesterday claiming the killings, Ansaru said it killed the hostages in part because of local Nigerian journalists reporting on the arrival of British military aircraft to Bauchi. However, Ansaru’s statement cited local news articles that instead said the airplanes were spotted at the international airport in Abuja, the nation’s central capital.

The UK Defence Ministry said the planes it flew to Abuja ferried Nigerian troops and equipment to Bamako, Mali. Nigerian soldiers have been sent to Mali to help French forces and Malian troops battle Islamic extremists there. The British military said it also transported Ghanaian soldiers to Mali the same way.

Ansaru had said it believed the planes were part of a Nigerian and British rescue mission for the abducted hostages.

While Nigerian authorities have yet to comment publicly about Ansaru’s claim, it comes as the nation’s security forces remain unable to stop the guerrilla campaign of bombings, shootings and kidnappings across the country’s north. The majority of those attacks have been blamed on Boko Haram, an amorphous group that grew out of the remains of a sect that sparked a riot and a security crackdown in Nigeria in 2009 in which about 700 people killed.

The hostage killings appear to be the worst in decades targeting foreigners working in Nigeria, an oil-rich nation that’s a major crude supplier to the US Most kidnappings in the country’s southern oil delta see foreigners released after companies pay ransoms. The latest kidnappings in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, however, have seen the hostages killed either by their captors or in military raids to free them, suggesting a new level of danger for expatriate workers there

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