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AP Worldstream: Nigeria militants release photos of kidnapped oil workers

EDWARD HARRIS
Feb 24, 2006
Militants in Nigeria issued the first photos of what they claimed were seven of nine foreigners kidnapped in this West African nation, and threatened more attacks on oil workers and the country's volatile oil industry.
The two photos, sent in an e-mail to reporters, showed seven unidentified men sitting on a bench with a dozen gunmen wearing black masks and camouflage hats behind them. The militants had ammunition belts wrapped over their shoulders and held an array of assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers pointed in the air.
In a Feb. 18 assault, militants stormed a barge belonging to a U.S. oil company in the Niger Delta's Forcados estuary, seizing three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.
The purported hostages in the photos were dressed in short-sleeve shirts and appeared to be in good health. Three bottles of water were situated at their feet as they sat in a clearing with palm trees in the background.
The militants released a separate statement saying the photos, which appeared slightly out of focus, were “pictures of our hostages with a section of the unit that secured their capture.”
“Oil industry workers should accept that we are going nowhere very soon and will show little mercy especially in facilities previously attacked,” the militants said. “We are continuing with our attacks on oil facilities and oil workers in the next few days. We will act without further warning.”
The barge the hostages were abducted from was owned by Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
The militants denied reports that any negotiations were taking place to secure the hostages' release.
Hostage takings have been a common occurrence in the volatile delta for years. Most of those kidnapped are released unharmed.
Last month, militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.
The militants are demanding a greater share of oil wealth for their impoverished region, which has remained poor despite the large amounts of oil flowing from it.
Nigeria is Africa's top crude producer, exporting 2.5 million barrels a day.

In the latest unrest over the past week, militants have blown up pipelines and sabotaged a Shell oil loading platform, forcing the company to shut off the flow of several hundred thousand barrels of oil.

The militants say they also want to secure the release from jail of the delta's two most prominent leaders, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Dokubo-Asari, who waged a struggle for autonomy for 8 million Ijaws that dominate the Niger delta for years, was jailed on treason charges in September. Alamieyeseigha was arrested recently in Nigeria after fleeing Britain on money laundering charges.
The militants said the e-mailed statement that the hostages' release was “directly related to the release of Alamieyeseigha and Asari.”
The statement added: “Politicians who do not care about how many soldiers and oil industry workers are killed as long as the oil keeps flowing.”
Militants are also demanding Shell pay local communities US$1.5 billion to compensate for environmental pollution. Shell has rejected the demand.
Associated Press writer Todd Pitman in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report

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