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Nigerian Islamists claim foreign hostages dead amid concern for French Sahel captives

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Nigerian Islamist group Ansaru on Saturday claimed to have killed seven foreign hostages captured last month. A French family is believed to be held by Islamists in the south of the country, while the war in Mali has raised concerns for the fate of other French hostages in the region.

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Ansaru issued a statement in Arabic and English announcing that it had executed the hostages – two Lebanese, two Syrians, a Briton, a Greek and an Italian – and showing pictures of their bodies, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Dossier: Sharia wars - Boko Haram v the military in northern Nigeria

"In the communiqué, the group stated that the attempts by the British and Nigerian governments to rescue the hostages, and their alleged arrest and killing of people, forced it to carry out the execution," SITE said.

The hostages’ employer, construction company Setraco, said it could not confirm the claim.

Ansaru, apparently a split-off from armed Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, a claimed responsibility for the kidnapping two days after it took place.

It has claimed responsibility for several kidnappings, including that of a French engineer in Katsina state in December.

Seven members of the same French family were kidnapped in Cameroon last month and are reported to have been taken to Nigeria.

Dossier: War in Mali

France has blamed Boko Haram for the abduction.

In a YouTube video showing the family the abductors claimed to be from Boko Haram, although the group has never claimed responsibility for a kidnapping before.

Seven other French nationals are being held hostage in the Sahel region.

Last week some of the families, concerned that there might be reprisals after the announcement of the deaths of two key Islamist leaders, called for a pause in the French-led offensive in Mali, although others distanced themselves from the demand.

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