Video claims to show bodies of foreign hostages in Nigeria

A video posted online claims to show the bodies of at least some of the seven foreign hostages believed killed by Islamist extremist group Ansaru following their abduction in Nigeria.

The grainy and silent video posted on YouTube, and seen by AFP on Monday, appears to show at least four victims. The images match screenshots released at the weekend along with the claim that the hostages had been executed following their abduction last month.

The 91-second video is titled in Arabic "the death of the seven Christian hostages in Nigeria," while an English statement announcing the executions is copied in below.

Britain, Italy and Greece on Sunday said that the claim by Ansaru that it had killed the seven foreign hostages appeared to be true, however there has been no confirmation from Nigerian authorities.

The foreigners were abducted from a construction site of Lebanese-owned company Setraco on February 16 in Bauchi state in Nigeria's north.

Nigerian police last month said the hostages were four Lebanese, one Briton, a Greek citizen and an Italian. A company official later said the Middle Eastern hostages included two Lebanese and two Syrians.

Restive northern Nigeria has seen scores of people killed from Islamist-linked violence, but the hostage executions marked the deadliest kidnapping targeting foreigners in the region in recent memory.

Ansaru said in its statement announcing the deaths on Saturday that it had carried out the executions in part because British planes had arrived in Nigeria in recent weeks to attempt a rescue, citing local media reports.

The statement from Ansaru, considered a splinter faction of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, referred to local media reports claiming five British planes had arrived in Nigeria last month for a rescue bid.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence in London denied Britain had been involved in a hostage rescue mission.

She pointed to Britain's role in assisting the French and the Nigerians in the operation against Islamists in Mali and said it would "not be too far-fetched" to see planes in the area transporting troops and equipment.

In an email statement sent to journalists announcing the kidnapping two days after the abduction, Ansaru said the motives were "the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah... by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali".

However, some analysts caution that such statements are not to be taken at face value and may hide other motives, with a lucrative market for hostages having taken root in the region.

Ansaru has been linked to several kidnappings, including the May 2011 abductions of a Briton and an Italian working for a construction firm in Kebbi state, near the border with Niger.

The victims were killed in March 2012 in neighbouring Sokoto state during a botched rescue operation.

It also claimed the December kidnapping of a French engineer in Katsina state, bordering Niger. The victim's whereabouts remain unknown.

Seven members of a French family, including four children, were abducted last month in Cameroon, and Cameroon authorities said they were then taken over the border into northeastern Nigeria. Their whereabouts also remain unknown.

Ansaru has appeared to focus specifically on kidnapping foreigners, though it has not been known to have claimed the abduction of the French family. France has blamed Boko Haram for the abduction.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.