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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nigeria Militants Threaten to Fire At Tankers Exporting Nation's Oil

February 20, 2006
WARRI, Nigeria — Militants responsible for a string of attacks and kidnappings that have cut Nigerian oil exports by 20% threatened for the first time yesterday to target international oil tankers coming into this West African nation's waters to load crude oil.
The country's military responded by giving assurances that tankers were safe.
The country was already reeling from violence a day earlier that saw nine foreigners abducted and oil installations destroyed across the volatile southern Niger Delta region.
A self-declared commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said by telephone his group was poised to escalate the violence by firing rockets at crude-oil tankers offshore.
“We'll use our rockets on the ships to stop them from taking our oil,” said the man, who gave his name as Efie Alari. His identity couldn't be independently verified, but the call came from a number used by the group before.
The military said it would do whatever is necessary to ensure tankers remain safe.
“I don't know their capabilities, but we're not leaving anything to chance,” said Maj. Said Hammed, spokesman of the military task force in the Niger Delta in Warri. “The assurance has been given at the highest level of government that oil tankers are safe in Nigerian waters. That assurance remains.”
Maj. Hammed said no soldiers were killed in Saturday's attacks, contrary to some local newspaper reports that five were killed. He also said there had been no further violence yesterday.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claims to be fighting for a greater local share of Nigeria's oil wealth, said Saturday's attacks were in retaliation for assaults this week by military helicopters. The militants threatened more violence on “a grander scale.”
In an email to the Associated Press, the group claimed responsibility for the raids, including one in which militants abducted three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.
The attacks began before dawn, when more than 40 militants overpowered military guards and seized the foreigners from a barge on the Forcados estuary belonging to Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
In Houston, Willbros spokesman Michael Collier confirmed that nine employees had been taken.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Noel Clay called for the hostages' unconditional release.

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