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Daily Telegraph: British oil contractor kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria

By Charles Pym in Lagos
(Filed: 20/02/2006)
A Briton was among nine oil workers kidnapped in Nigeria at the weekend in a series of attacks that threatens to destabilise the lucrative industry.
Shell shut down more than one-fifth of Nigeria's oil exports – stoking fears of a rise in fuel prices – after a team of its contractors were kidnapped by militiamen who also blew up petroleum pipelines and an oil platform. Mend is demanding US$1.5bn in environmental compensation from Shell for gas flaring and oil leak.
The team – one Briton, three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais and a Filipino – were abducted from a ship by dozens of gunmen from a group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) in a pre-dawn raid on Saturday.
The Foreign Office said the kidnapped Briton was John Hudspith, from the south of England. No further details were given.
The kidnappers said last night that they would decide the fate of their hostages “in the next few days”.
In an e-mailed response to rumours that they planned to execute the captives Mend said: “They are being moved around with our units and may likely only be killed in a crossfire [with government forces].”
Mend is demanding the release of two jailed leaders of local secessionist militias and US$1.5 billion (almost £1 billion) in environmental compensation from Shell for gas flaring and oil leaks.
The militiamen fired rocket-propelled grenades at police guarding Shell's key Forcados export terminal, which handles 380,000 barrels per day, blowing up an oil platform and two pipelines.
Shell produces more than 2.4 million barrels per day and has in the past born the brunt of violent campaigns by ethnic Ijaw militias angry that desperately poor local communities lack basic health care while foreign companies make millions out of the delta's rich natural resources.
In 2003, an ethnic Ijaw revolt shut down 40 per cent of Nigeria's crude production, much of which remains cut off. Some of the same individuals are behind the current wave of violence and this time they are better armed and even more militant.
More attacks “will take place on a grander scale”, the group said in an e-mail to journalists that warned Shell it would “pay a terrible price” for allowing one of its airstrips to be used by the Nigerian air force as a launch pad for attacks on Ijaw villages.
Kidnappings of foreign oil workers have increased since two figureheads of the Ijaw group were arrested as part of a crackdown on secessionist violence and corruption. One was the delta's most prominent militia leader, pro-secessionist Mujahid Dokubo Asari, who was arrested in September on treason charges.
Last week, Nigerian air force helicopters attacked militia strongholds. The military said the operation successfully destroyed barges involved in “oil bunkering”, a phrase that in Nigeria means stealing oil by tapping into pipelines.
Local residents told a different story, saying helicopters fired rockets at their villages.

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