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Italian president: UK action 'inexplicable' on Nigerian hostage rescue bid (+video)

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called UK action 'inexplicable' in failing to inform his government before launching a botched rescue mission with Nigerian forces that led to the deaths of British and Italian hostages held by a militant Islamist group.

By Steve SchererReuters / March 9, 2012

Italian Carabinieri police officers stand in front of the house where the family of Franco Lamolinara lives, in Gattinara, northern Italy, Thursday, March 8. Lamolinara, who was held hostage in Nigeria by kidnappers, was killed along with British hostage Chris McNamus before a UK and Nigerian rescue operation could free them, authorities said Thursday.

Massimo Pinca/AP

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President Giorgio Napolitano led a chorus of condemnation on Friday of Britain's failure to inform the Italian government before launching a botched rescue mission with Nigerian forces that led to the deaths of British and Italian hostages held by a militant Islamist group.

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Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara, who were kidnapped in May while working for a construction company in northwest Nigeria, were killed by their captors during the raid, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday.

In the strongest Italian condemnation, Napolitano told reporters: "The behaviour of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable."
"A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary."

Prime Minister Mario Monti said Italy had been informed only after the raid began against a compound in the town of Sokoto. The British government confirmed this on Friday.

"Italy wasn't informed or asked its opinion about a blitz that put at mortal risk an Italian citizen," Fabrizio Cicchitto, a senior official in former leader Silvio Berlusconi's People of Liberty party, said in a television interview.

"Between allies, this sort of mission is usually talked about beforehand. The British government bypassed and completely ignored us," he said.

While Italian media criticised Britain for acting unilaterally, commentators also said the event underscored Italy's diminishing international clout.

They linked the incident to an ongoing struggle by Italy to free two marines on anti-piracy duty who are being held in India for shooting dead two fishermen in the Indian Ocean.

"The United Kingdom still acts, maybe unconsciously, with the nostalgia of imperial glory," said Antonio Puri Purini in Corriere della Sera, the country's biggest daily, drawing another parallel with the capsizing of the giant cruise liner Costa Concordia in which at least 25 people died in January.

"First the tragic farce of Captain (Francesco) Schettino and then the arrest of the marines in Kochi," said Puri Purini. "The Italian public has a right to feel humiliated."

MONTI CONVENES SECURITY COMMITTEE

Monti called a meeting on Friday with his senior security ministers and a representative of the secret services. A parliamentary committee has also said it will open a probe.

The British ambassador in Rome visited the Italian Foreign Ministry "on his own accord" on Thursday night, a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said without giving further details.

In Britain there were attempts to play down the spat.

"I don't think failure to make a phone call five minutes earlier will damage relations between Britain and Italy," Richard Ottaway, chairman of Britain's Foreign Affairs select committee, told Reuters.

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