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Killings mark new, dangerous turn for Nigeria

KANO, Nigeria -- Radical Islamic fighters killed seven foreign hostages in Nigeria, European diplomats said yesterday, making it the worst such kidnapping violence in decades for a country beset by extremist guerrilla attacks.

Nigeria's police, military, domestic spy service and presidency remained silent about the killing of the construction company workers, kidnapped Feb. 16 from northern Bauchi state. Government silence led to more questions about the nation's continued inability to halt attacks that have seen hundreds killed in shootings, church bombings and an attack on the United Nations.

The latest victims were four Lebanese and one citizen each from Britain, Greece and Italy.

Britain and Italy said all seven of those taken from the Setraco construction company compound had died at the hands of Ansaru, a little-known splinter group of the Islamic sect Boko Haram. Greece also confirmed one of its citizens was killed.

"It's an atrocious act of terrorism, against which the Italian government expresses its firmest condemnation, and which has no explanation," Italy's foreign ministry said. Italy also denied a claim by Ansaru that the hostages were killed before or during a military operation by Nigerian and British forces, saying there was "no military intervention aimed at freeing the hostages." Italian Premier Mario Monti identified the slain Italian hostage as Silvano Trevisan and promised Rome would use "every effort" to stop the killers.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the killings "an act of cold-blooded murder" and identified the U.K. victim as Brendan Vaughan.

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