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.
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"I understand the frustrations of the Italians, but I don't think it is unreasonable because they are fast moving, sensitive operations and it's not always possible to keep politicians briefed in advance of what goes on."Skip to next paragraph
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A Downing Street spokesman said Britain had been in close contact with the Italian government since the kidnapping last May. Rome was contacted as the operation got underway, he said.
"The fact of the matter is things were moving quite quickly on the ground and we had to respond to that and our top priority was to maximize the chances of getting the hostages out.
Asked if Italian authorities had given prior approval to a rescue operation, he said: "When the prime minister (Cameron) phoned Mario Monti, ), the operation had happened. We knew that the hostages were dead."
Monti spoke to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, whose special forces made up most of the attack force, on Thursday to demand a "complete reconstruction" of the operation.
In Nigeria, the compound where the hostages were held was pock-marked with bullet holes after the raid.
"The security agencies tried to break into the house but there was resistance. The people inside the house were shooting at them and they returned fire.They exchanged fire for some time," said Mahmoud Abubakar, who lives on the same street.
"After all the gunfire, I saw soldiers bring out five dead bodies from the house. Two were white, three were black," said Murtala Naboro Tsafe, whose house is opposite the compound.
"At about 6.30pm local time, before dark, soldiers marched three people out of the house who were still alive."
Boko Haram is waging an insurgency against Nigeria's southern dominated government and has been blamed for shootings and bombings that have killed hundreds in the last two years.
The two diplomatic incidents in Nigeria and India are an unexpected challenge for Monti, who has focused primarily on economic reforms.
He took power at the head of an unelected government of technocrats in November, replacing the scandal-plagued Berlusconi as Italy teetered on the brink of ruinous default.
Despite being a NATO member and active in international peacekeeping - with troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon and elsewhere - Italy's international influence seems to have flagged in recent years.
Berlusconi's flamboyant personality, sexual and corruption scandals and diplomatic gaffes damaged Italy's reputation abroad, especially after his foot-dragging when Britain and France pushed for the NATO bombing campaign that helped oust Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.