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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Militants Assault Oil Industry, Abducting 9 Foreigners

Published: February 19, 2006
LAGOS, Nigeria, Feb. 18 (Reuters) — Nigerian militants began a string of attacks on the country's oil industry on Saturday, abducting nine foreign workers, bombing a major tanker loading platform and sabotaging two pipelines.
Royal Dutch Shell suspended exports from the 380,000-barrel-a-day Forcados tanker terminal, and shut down the 115,000-barrel-a-day EA oilfield as a precaution. That cut 21 percent of the 2.4 million barrels of daily supply to world markets by Nigeria, the eighth-largest oil exporter. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said the attacks were a response to military air raids in Delta State earlier this week and would be followed by another wave of violence “on a grander scale.”
“These hostages are human shields,” the militants said, calling on all oil workers to leave the delta. “Subsequent attacks on other installations will be drastic as we have no intentions of taking hostages.”
The militants said they wanted more local control over the Niger Delta's vast oil wealth and the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, including a militia leader who is on trial for treason.
In military-style predawn raids, militants in speed boats stormed an offshore barge operated by the American oil services company Willbros and abducted nine workers — three Americans, one Briton, two Thais, two Egyptians and a Filipino.
The rebels caused an explosion and fire on the Forcados loading platform, which delivers crude oil through pipes to large buoys where tankers load. The fire was later extinguished.
They also blew up a major Shell crude oil pipeline nearby, and a natural gas pipeline operated by state-run Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, militant and oil industry sources said.
Shell began to close oil fields feeding the Forcados terminal, as well as the offshore EA field. It had already cut 106,000 barrels a day of output from the Forcados area because of an attack in January.
On Saturday night, a militant source said soldiers in 14 boats with air cover had engaged the militants in a three-hour firefight. Another pipeline, carrying gasoline, exploded in the nearby Escravos area, a security source said.
The militants warned Shell not to try to repair the offshore loading platform.
The United States confirmed that three Americans were among the hostages and called for their unconditional release.
Militants said the attacks had focused on Delta State in response to air raids on Wednesday and Friday. Delta state is on the western side of the Niger Delta and accounts for about a quarter of Nigerian output.
They accused Shell of allowing the military to use an airstrip operated by the company to initiate its attacks, and threatened to attack any aircraft, including civilian planes, using it. The Osubi airport was closed as a precaution, a security source said.
The military said their aerial bombardment this week had been aimed at gangs stealing crude oil from pipelines. But community leaders said the targets were villages suspected of harbouring militants, who had staged a series of attacks on the oil industry in December and January.
Militancy in the delta, a vast region of mangrove swamps and creeks that accounts for almost all of Nigeria's output, is rooted in the extreme poverty of the majority who live there.

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