KANO, Nigeria (AP) — A German engineer kidnapped in northern Nigeria about five months ago and presumed held by al-Qaida-aligned terrorists has been killed during a failed rescue attempt, officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, authorities said Wednesday that an Italian national had been abducted Monday in Kwara state, part of an increasing number of abductions targeting expatriates working in Nigeria's Muslim northern and central regions.
Kano state police commissioner Philemon Ibrahim Leha said the operation to free Edgar Fritz Raupach happened in the early hours of Thursday in the state capital of Kano, but did not immediately provide further details.
A military official told The Associated Press that five people, including a woman, were killed in the operation to free Raupach. It was unclear whether Raupach was killed before or during the rescue operation.
In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the ministry could not currently confirm that the hostage was killed, and that the ministry's crisis unit and the German Embassy in Abuja were working to clarify the situation. She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department rules.
Gunmen kidnapped Raupach in January from Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city, where he worked for Dantata & Sawoe Construction Co. Ltd. Police said his abductors had taken him from a construction site.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had released a statement in March claiming they had Raupach, as well as a video showing him disheveled and asking in German and English for his country to help win his freedom. The group known by the acronym AQIM demanded that German officials release Filiz Gelowicz, a German woman convicted last year of supporting a foreign terrorist network. Gelowicz's husband was among a group convicted of plotting unsuccessfully to attack U.S. soldiers and citizens in Germany.
German officials released Gelowicz from prison in late April on probation after she served two-thirds of her sentence. In May, an unsigned advertisement appeared in The Daily Trust, a newspaper of record in Nigeria's north, showing a photograph of Raupach and messages in Arabic and English calling for him to be released.
"Your sister Uma Saifullah Al-Ansariya (Filiz Gelowicz) is free since two weeks," the advertisement read. "When do you release our brother Edgar? His friends are waiting for him."
It was not clear whether German authorities authorized the message.
AQIM grew out of organizations fighting the Algerian government in the 1990s. The group's real impact in Nigeria began to be felt with the rise of Boko Haram, a locally focused Islamist sect that wants to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. The sect began gun attacks from the backs of motorcycles, but, last year, it started escalating its attacks with a string of suicide bombings targeting churches, government buildings, and even the United Nations headquarters in the capital Abuja. Security officials and diplomats say Boko Haram has loose links with AQIM and may have received training and some funding from the group.
Italy's Foreign Ministry said an Italian engineer had been abducted Monday in Kwara state but declined to give any details. Nigerian authorities declined to immediately comment about the abduction.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, David Rising in Berlin and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.