BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said Monday the two kidnapped Lebanese in Nigeria were not identified in a video of executed hostages that was posted online, as their families waited anxiously for news about their loved ones.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Mansour said the Foreign Ministry received information that the two abducted Lebanese and two other Syrians had been separated from the three remaining hostages who were believed to have been killed.
“We hope to hear good news very soon; we are in continuous contact with our embassy [in Nigeria to clarify the whereabouts of the two Lebanese],” Mansour said.
Mansour is traveling with President Michel Sleiman Tuesday for a weeklong visit to four African countries that include Nigeria. The president discussed with Mansour strategies to negotiate the release of the two Lebanese in Nigeria, said a statement from the presidential palace.
The fate of Lebanese Imad al-Andari and Carlos Abu Aziz has been shrouded in mystery since Saturday, when the Ansaru rebel group said it had killed the seven hostages it captured last month after raiding the housing compound of the Lebanese-Nigerian construction firm Setraco. Ansaru said in a statement that they had killed the hostages following British and Nigerian attempts to rescue them.
In the video posted Monday, a man carrying a rifle appeared standing over four corpses. The soundless video bore the caption, in Arabic: “The killing of seven Christian hostages in Nigeria.”
One of the corpses appeared to have been shot in the head.
Ansaru has been linked to both Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, an Islamist group operating in northern Nigeria.
French interventions in January to push Islamist groups out of northern Mali has placed Western interests in West Africa at risk.
Mansour contacted the hostages’ families to reassure them that there was no evidence their loved ones had been killed.
Besides Andari and Abu Aziz, two Syrians, a British, Italian and a Greek were among the hostages. Britain, Italy and Greece said Sunday their nationals were likely dead.
Nigerian Interior Minister Abba Moro told the BBC’s Hausa language radio service Monday that the European countries had said their citizens were “likely” dead. “We hope they’re alive,” Moro said.
Meanwhile, relatives of Andari and Abu Aziz held out hope that the two were still alive.
A glimmer of hope appeared Sunday when Andari’s brother-in-law, who also works for Setraco, assured his family over the phone that the firm “has no information about the matter and what media outlets have circulated [regarding Andari’s death] is false.”
Andari’s father, Joseph, hoping the comforting news would turn out to be true, sat calmly beside his wife Josephine and daughter Darine. A host of relatives and friends came to their house in the Koura village of Dar Baashtar to wait patiently for updates.
Throughout, Andari’s son kept asking his mother, Nancy, who is seven months pregnant with their second child, about his father.
Andari’s family, along with the rest of the village, was shocked when they heard of Ansaru’s announcement that it had killed the captives. The family had been expecting the release of the captive, as in previous occasions when Setraco employees were freed after the captors were paid a ransom. The admissions from Britain, Italy and Greece that their nationals were probably dead heightened the family’s anxiety.
The atmosphere in Dar Baashtar was not its usual calm Monday, with residents anxiously following the news to clarify the fate of the village native.
Abu Aziz, who has three children, hails from the Sidon village of Darb al-Sim in south Lebanon.
The killing of the hostages is reportedly the worst targeting of foreigners working in Nigeria.
A large Lebanese community resides in Nigeria and many other African countries. Most kidnappings in the country’s southern region are followed by the release of foreigners after a ransom is paid.
However, the latest bout of kidnappings in northern Nigeria have seen hostages killed either by their captors or during the military raids intended to free them, suggesting a new level of danger for expatriate working there. - with additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh