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7 foreigners kidnapped in Nigeria

From Hassan John, for CNN
February 18, 2013 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The foreigners work for a construction firm in northern Nigeria, police say
  • The victims are from Italy, Greece, Lebanon and possibly Britain
  • Nigeria has seen a rash of killings and kidnappings
  • Violence is blamed on criminal groups or the Islamist militant group Boko Haram

Jos, Nigeria (CNN) -- Seven foreign workers were kidnapped late Saturday from a construction company in northeastern Nigeria, police said.

The workers include one Italian citizen, one Greek citizen and two Lebanese citizens, according to those governments. Nigerian police said a Briton was also kidnapped; British authorities said they were aware of such reports and were making inquiries.

Who are Boko Haram?

The workers were taken Saturday night from the offices of Setraco, a construction company in Jama'are, in Bauchi State, police said. The company is based in Abuja and is involved in many major road construction projects in northern Nigeria.

The gunmen first attacked a prison, burning two police trucks, public service broadcaster Voice of Nigeria reported, citing state police spokesman Hassan Muhammed.

Opinion: Nigerians still waiting for their 'African Spring'

They then killed a guard at the Setraco workers camp before kidnapping the workers, Muhammed told the broadcaster.

Nigeria has seen a rash of killings and kidnappings blamed on criminal groups or the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

A week ago, three North Korean doctors were killed at a hospital in northern Yobe state, the state police chief told CNN. Ten suspects were arrested.

Earlier this month, nine people working for a government polio vaccination program were killed in the northern city of Kano, a police spokesman said.

Opinion: Nigeria is a sinking ship, but we must not desert it

Nigeria launched a military crackdown on Boko Haram on New Year's Day. Security forces have since captured one of the group's leaders and killed 17 suspected Boko Haram members in a two-day offensive.

Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram -- whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" -- has killed more than 2,800 people in an escalating campaign to impose strict Islamic law on largely Muslim northern Nigeria.

Opinion: Why are Nigerians numb to slaughter?

In the past, the group attacked other Muslims it felt were on an immoral path. But it has increasingly targeted Christians with numerous attacks on churches, as well as striking police stations.

Boko Haram and other Muslim groups say the north has been starved of resources and marginalized by the Nigerian government. But the U.S. State Department has accused its leaders of having ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network and of hoping to drive a wedge between Nigeria's Christian and Muslim communities.

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