Nigeria investigates "al Qaeda" hostage video

Mon Aug 8, 2011 12:49pm EDT

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N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Nigeria's security service is investigating the authenticity of a video released last week which appeared to show a Briton and his Italian colleague saying they had been kidnapped by al Qaeda, Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru told Reuters Monday.

The one-minute video shows the hostages, who were kidnapped in northern Nigeria in May, blindfolded and on their knees, while three armed men stood behind them with faces hidden by turbans. It was not clear when or where the video was made and it has not be independently verified.

"The federal government has instructed the security agencies to carry out a thorough investigation to confirm the authenticity of the video claim," said Ashiru.

"Nigeria is not taking the claim lightly, because anything about terrorism is a very serious security issue," he told Reuters during an official visit to neighboring Chad.

The British foreign office said Thursday it was urgently checking the video's authenticity. A spokeswoman said it had no further update Monday.

The Islamist group's north African wing, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, operates in neighboring Niger and has kidnapped foreign workers there but this would be the first such incident in Nigeria.

If the kidnappers were linked to al Qaeda it would be a significant escalation in the security threat in Africa's most populous nation, scene of attacks in recent months by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by David Stamp)

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