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THE NEW YORK TIMES: US Oil Executive Shot Dead in Nigeria

US Oil Executive Shot Dead in Nigeria

By REUTERS
Published: May 10, 2006

Filed at 1:26 p.m. ET

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) – An executive of U.S. oil service company Baker Hughes was shot dead in an apparently planned assassination in Nigeria's oil heartland on Wednesday, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear if the killing in the oil city of Port Harcourt was related to a five-month campaign by militants to cripple the oil industry in the world's eighth largest exporter, but a diplomat and an oil company source said they thought not.

“The American was shot by a man on a motorcycle. The motorcycle pulled up beside him and shot him,'' Samuel Agbetuyi, Police Commissioner of Rivers State, told Reuters.

Houston-based Baker Hughes, which drills wells and performs other services for major oil companies, was not immediately available for comment.

An oil industry source said the executive was being chauffeur-driven to work early on Friday through a notoriously violent area when the gunman shot him through the chest. The assassin was apparently working in coordination with a car which impeded the American's escape.

He could have been targeted because of a work-related dispute or some personal problem, the source added.

Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks have cut Nigerian oil exports by a quarter, threatened this week to carry out attacks on oil industry targets and individuals. They have bombed oil facilities, kidnapped several foreign oil workers and recently embarked on a car bombing campaign.

However, they treated American oil workers well during the kidnappings, and the Port Harcourt killing did not bear any similarity to previous MEND attacks.

A diplomat said: “It looks like a targeted attack on that individual, but my guess is that it was a private matter.''

STAFF EVACUATED

The oil industry source said Baker Hughes had decided to pull its staff out of Port Harcourt to Lagos as a security precaution.

Port Harcourt is the largest city in the delta, and several oil multinationals have major offices there, including Royal Dutch Shell and Agip. The city suffers from sporadic outbreaks of bloody gang violence and there have been several deadly armed robberies recently.

“It helps to reinforce the gloomy picture in Nigeria. A lot of sub-contractors are worried about working in Port Harcourt now,'' the oil industry source said.

Even if the attack is not linked to MEND, it adds to a trend of rising violent crime in the region, which pumps all of the OPEC member nation's oil.

Much of the violence stems from deep-seated resentment by many inhabitants of the delta, where impoverished villages stand close to multi-billion-dollar oil facilities.

Many residents of the vast wetlands region feel cheated out of the riches being pumped from their tribal lands.

Neglect and rampant corruption have eroded trust in government, while communal rivalries and abuses by the military have fueled the rise of well-armed community militias.

They have taken advantage of the absence of law and order to engage in large-scale theft of crude oil, extortion, blackmail and kidnapping against oil companies, who rely on ill-equipped and poorly trained police and military to protect them.

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